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Anchoring Hassles in Port Charlotte (off Peace River in Edgewater Lake)

First of all, let’s locate the anchorage where the series of events described below is centered. Edgewater Lake is accessed via a canal which cuts off the northern shores of upper Charlotte Harbor/lower Peace River, just across the way from the Punta Gorda waterfront. These waters are indeed recommended as an anchorage in both my “Cruising Guide to Western Florida” and here on the Cruisers’ Net.
Secondly, if we believe Captain Ritchie’s assertion below that they “sail and/or maintain multiple times per week” their vessel, clearly this craft is NOT a derelict or a “live aboard hulk.”
So, this is pretty clearly a case where the adjacent land owners simply do not want to see anchored vessels when they go out into their back yards. IN MY OPINION, THIS IS PRECISELY THE SORT OF INSTANCE THE 2009 FLORIDA STATE ANCHORING LAW WAS MEANT TO ADDRESS. According to this law, as most of you already know, LOCAL MUNICIPAL AND COUNTY AUTHORITIES HAVE NO RIGHT TO DENY ANCHORAGE ON THESE OR ANY OTHER WATERS TO ANY CRAFT (unless it is abandoned or a “live aboard hulk,” which, to be repetitive, this vessel is not).
It’s just this sort of instance which paints all of Florida in a bad light, and why when I talk to cruising groups in the Carolinas, Georgia or the non-Floridian Gulf coast, generally the second or third query in my question and answer sessions goes something like, “Should we take our boats to Florida?”
But, all of Florida is NOT like this. Places like Fort Myers Beach could not be more welcoming to the cruising community, and really this positive attitude towards cruisers is the rule, not the exception. However, let an incident like the Volusia County Sheriff’s office boardings of last fall happen, or what is described below, and mariners begin to have very real, very legitimate questions about whether they should avoid Floridian waters entirely.
Well, that’s today’s unsolicited editorial. Read on and discover what prompted this stream of consciousness.

On Tuesday, May 10, 2011, I wrote this letter to a Florida attorney who is interested in violations of Florida’s anchoring laws by local municipalities, in this case, Charlotte County.
May 10, 2011
Ahoy! My name is Rick Ritchie. I am a Michigan Resident staying at my mother’s house in Port Charlotte, Florida. My family and I have a 37 Irwin sailboat (registered in FL) which we sail and/or maintain multiple times per week. We anchor in Edgewater Lake, a small cove just off of North Charlotte Harbor, which is listed as an anchorage in Claiborne Young’s Cruisers’ Guide and on Cruisers.net (an online cruising guide), also designated as an anchorage on Florida’s FWC nautical chart (the one that is published for FWC for boaters). It is designated anchorage number 7 on FWC chart SGEB-61. Even the two unhappy local lake-shore landowners concede that it is an anchorage. Of course, as you know, even if it were not designated, as such, anchoring there would still be legal because it is a navigable part of Charlotte Harbor, Florida. The “anchorage” designation by FWC is just a redundancy.
We (my family and I) have been “talked to” by the Charlotte County sheriff’s office, twice, and told to move our boat. They have told us that this navigable lake is not an anchorage. In both instances I was able to demonstrate to the officer that my boat was (and is) legally anchored. I did this by showing them the aforementioned FWC nautical chart and the reference in the cruiser’s guide. The last deputy sheriff’s parting words were that he is NOT telling us we have to move it (even though that is exactly what he told us to do at the beginning of the dialog), but that there is a time limit on the anchoring of boats in Charlotte county. My wife asked him. “what is the time limit?” and he said that he didn’t know. Then he left.
Also, we were asked to attend a meeting of the neighborhood association (actually, just two homeowner couples showed up) to discuss my boat. The short version of the meeting is that they don’t like to look at boats anchored in “their water.” It was, actually, a gripe session where my wife and I politely listened and responded to their questions and managed to avoid rising to their baited and barbed comments and insults. One of them even offhandedly threatened us. Of course his wife said that he was not serious. (our anchor line has been cut twice while anchored there, quite probably by someone who lives nearby. We now have all chain.)
Before you jump to the wrong conclusion, we have friendly relationships with many of the homeowners around the lake, even getting invited to use a homeowners dock for our dinghy, and another homeowner is smitten with our children and invites us into their home for beverages. So only two homeowners, it seems, are calling the sheriff and complaining. Unfortunately, the Sheriff’s office seems to dance to their tune.
One more thing (promise): According to one of our several friends who lives on that anchorage’s shore, the sheriff’s boat has been visiting our boat on a regular basis (lately, almost daily). Today, it seems, they even tied onto it. I don’t know if they boarded it, or not. We were at my mother’s house a few miles away, at the time. That’s where we usually are if we aren’t on the water.
This is all for your information. If you have any advise or questions please feel free to email me.
Sincerely,
Rick Ritchie

More on this Charlotte Harbor Anchoring Hassle:
May 15, 2011
First, let me emphasize this: Deputy Katsarelas was polite during the entire phone conversation– even when I told him that he was wrong about the anchoring law. If he was unhappy about it, I couldn’t tell. He continued to be polite and professional.
Second, I understand that this letter may find its way to the Sheriff’s office. For that reason I have been careful to be accurate in this testimony and faithful in my recreation of the events and
quotations. Other than my speculations, which I have identified as such, this is as accurate as I can make it.
Read on:
My boat was just tagged as an “At-Risk of becoming derelict” vessel by Deputy Sheriff Katsarelas of the Charlotte County Sheriff Department. When I spoke with him on the phone, today, he said that the citation was based on another complaint by an Edgewater Lake homeowner. He also stated that he (Katsarelas) has never seen anybody aboard my vessel. I explained that I have been on-board my boat weekly, usually more than once per week. I also informed him that some friendly homeowners on the lake could verify this.
[Maybe he hasn't seen me aboard my boat because, until last week, he only patrols Edgewater Lake for a few minutes out of every month... just a guess]
Specifically, the tag that he left on my boat states that my vessel has been identified as being “at risk of becoming a derelict vessel.” The reason stated on the tag is that my vessel is “neglected, improperly maintained, or is not able to be used for navigation.”
This is untrue. As I stated in the letter to ATTY Dickerson, which you posted on Cruisersnet, my wife and I visit my boat multiple times per week to maintain and/or sail her.
We don’t always get to sail her, but we ALWAYS are able to get out there and take care of her, start the engine, air it out, install a redundant bilge-pump, add another battery, replace
hoses, replace anchor line with chain, etc..
Deputy Katsarelas suggested that I moor my boat at my house instead of anchoring on the lake.
After I explained to the Deputy that I was within my rights to anchor there, and cited the Florida statute, he informed me that the County has more strict anchoring regulations.
And I quote from Deputy Katsarelas of the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Department: during today’s phone conversation:
“The County has more binding regulations than the State.”
“The county has the right to add to the State regulations.”
“[County regulations] …are in-addition to State regulations”
When I informed him that he was in error, I gave him the specific statute (327.60) which specifically states that local municipalities are prohibited from enacting , continuing in effect, or enforcing any ordinance or regulation regulating the anchoring of vessels other than live-aboards. Deputy Katsarelas then stated that he was not current on the new anchoring laws.
Again, a quote from Deputy Katsarelas:
“I’m not up on the new anchoring laws.”
So I offered to give him a copy of the new regulations and a copy of Boat US’s summary of the new law. He said that I could do that if I wanted to.
So now my boat is listed in the new State-wide database of Derilict vessels. I wonder if this might be a prelude to an accusation of vessel abandonment? Swell!!!
I guess I will send him a copy of the statute and a copy of Boat U.S.’s summary of the anchoring laws. I suspect that it won’t help, though. Maybe it’s just because a few of them make numerous complaints, but the unhappy Edgewater Lake homeowners seem to have some sort of special influence over the sheriff’s office. I speculate that I will now be hounded by the sheriff’s office.
It would be cool if a more official type person would send the statute and a legal opinion of it to Deputy Katsarelas and the Sheriff’s Department of Charlotte County — perhaps a member of
the BAR.
I wonder what the sheriff dept. has in store for me? Boardings? Safety Inspections? Home visitations? Towing my vessel?
I wonder what the unhappy homeowners have in store for me: More anchor rode cuttings (I now have chain so it’ll have to be with bolt cutters, this time)?
Anyway, Edgewater Lake, designated as an anchorage in the cruisers guides and FWC charts (not that it needs to be), is a little less than friendly.
P.S. In the interest of fairness and completeness, the tag that was left on my boat also stated thatthe registration numbers are not in contrast with the hull color. To that, I have to admit that Deputy
Katsarelas may have a point. I informed him that I will the numbers from black to white and he said that would be acceptable.
Again, this is for your information. I hope that someone out there can make good use of it.
Rick Ritchie

This situation is truly unfortunate and also an opportunity. Although, I’m not a lawyer I believe it is illegal for even the police to board your boat without your invitation. I would speak to your shore side friends about setting up a video surveillance(VS). Post the boat with a sign, and file charges after the violation. At the very least, you might make it known that there is VS on your boat. Harassment of this type is unacceptable and the police should be investigating who cut you rode.
Marc Sexton

Now, here is a well-thought note that demands some serious consideration. Read Captain Kewley’s comments first, and then peruse my editorial remarks afterward:

Mr Ritchie,
I would like to offer some thought to clarify a couple of points that you make in your post.I believe that the sea floor in Edgewater Lake is owned by Charlotte County since the lake like the waterways are not natural bodies of water, indicating why the County Sheriff would be involved in policing anchored boats there. This also brings into question whether the rules on anchoring in Florida State waters apply.
I think the crux of the issue lies with the point at which an untended boat becomes a hazard or derelict. I do not believe that the residents around Edgewater Lake object to overnight or short-term anchoring since I visit the location fairly frequently. However you use the anchorage as a long-term storage facility for your Irwin while staying with relatives miles away and apparently have done so periodically for a couple of years. Barnacles growing up your anchor rode in the past have indicated infrequent movement of your boat.
As the 2011 Hurricane season approaches and I wonder if the residents surrounding Edgewater Lake should feel reassured that your liability coverage will be adequate to compensate them should your boat’s chain anchor rode not withstand storm conditions.I think that it is a matter of reasonable consideration for others, and storing your boat for free, anchored near someone’s backyard for months at a time certainly is inconsiderate at best.
Clifford Kewley

Captain Kewley raises at least three interesting questions in his note above. First, there is matter of whether Florida anchoring law applies to bottomland that is the result of man-made action, e. g. dredging. I have heard some say yes and some say no. However, I do clearly recall in my political science classes, that “Federal law supercedes state law, and state law supercedes local and county statutes.” Given that truism, one must conclude that there is at least a distinct possibility that the 2009 Florida state anchoring law applies even to bottom lands that are the result of dredging. For a more definitive answer, we must defer to the lawyers among us. If anyone practicing the legal profession would like to weigh in, and please do so, then click the “Comment on This Posting/Marina/Anchorage/Bridge” link below, and share your information.

Secondly, there is the matter of how long should a well maintained, non-abandoned vessel that is in compliance with all safely and MSD regulations, be allowed to anchor in one place. In my 2010 editorial entitled, “Whence Come the Anchorage Regulations,” (http://www.CruisersNet.net/florida-anchoring-editorial-1-whence-come-the-anchorage-regulations), I wondered out loud:

“Finally, that leaves the case of what I will call “responsible liveaboards,” boat owners who religiously come to the dock (or use a “honey boat”) to have their holding tanks pumped, don’t throw trash overboard, don’t make loud noise, don’t’ trespass, and keep their vessels attractive and well secured. How long should a mariner of this ilk be allowed to anchor his or her vessel in the same spot?”

I don’t have an answer for this instance to this day. Anyone else????

And, finally, there is the question of damage caused by anchored vessels during a violent storm or a hurricane. A legitimate concern to be sure, but in the case of Captain Ritchie, since he is clearly in close contact with his vessel, there should be ample time for him to move his craft before a hurricane hits. Thus, I tend to think this question is a non-issue!

Click Here To View the Cruisers’ Net’s Western Florida Anchorage Directory Listing For Edgewater Lake

Some may question whether or not someone “should” anchor a boat for long term storage like this, but it is crystal clear that it is perfectly legal to do so according to Florida and Federal statute. The issues about a potential for hurricane damage and being “untended” are bogus–if this was the standard throughout Florida nobody could anchor or tie up anyplace for more than a few days. The sheriff is just hunting for something, anything to allow him to make this boater move along.
John Kettlewell

Dear Captain Young
Thanks for stimulating a very interesting discussion and spotlighting the issue of anchoring rights. Kinda brings to mind the Paul Simon lyric in discussing apartment living,”one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor”.
Your essay/editorial “whence come the Anchorage Regulations” and your message discusses responsible live-aboards. In the case of Mr Ritchie, substitute the term responsible long-term storage behind someone else’s home.
I do not know the legalities of whether ownership of the sea floor determines the applicable regulation of anchoring and, hopefully some “sea lawyers will opine on the issue.
Clif Kewley

Dear Clifford Kewley,
With all due respect, you seem to be confusing my boat with another one that was, in fact, abandoned on the lake and was finally removed a few months ago (by whom, I have no idea). It was a boat called the “Wild Hare” and it did, indeed, have a barnacle-ball the size of a basketball on the anchor rode. It also had a missing companionway hatch so it was completely exposed to the elements. Its hull had a barnacle-covering that made it resemple an oyster farm. The “Wild Hare” was there when I first discovered Edgewater Lake a year ago. My friends on the lake have told me that “Wild Hare” had been there for 2 years. This, however, is NOT my boat. My anchor rode has NEVER had a barnacle ball. Secondly, I have owned my boat for only 12 months, four of which I kept her at a dock on the Ackerman waterway (e.g. from November 2010 to February 2011), and several other weeks I kept her on the harbor, next to another anchored cruiser (Jim). So your assertion that I have been storing it on Edgewater Lake for “years” is mistaken. I maintain my boat, regularly, including the achor rigging, which I have had to replace… thrice… in the last year. More importantly, I SAIL MY BOAT! True, it is on the lake much more often than it is under sail, still I get to sail her reasonably often.
So, I am now keeping a log of my visits to my boat. I don’t suppose it will make any difference to the disgruntled landowners, but I am recording what I do during each visit. And thanks to the local police, I will now have their official verification that I was on my boat to find the tag that they left, and was there on another occasion to replace the reg. numbers with more contrasting colored ones. So between the police and the friendly landowners I should easily be able to substantiate my claim of twice per week.
So, my question to you is (this is a serious question, I have no ill-will loaded up here because I believe it was an honest mistake): How long should I stay away from Edgewater lake between anchorings; And, how long should I be able to anchor my boat there, each time?
Please accept my apology for anything in this letter that seems less than polite. I find that the brevity of email sometimes impersonates rudeness. I do not mean to sound harsh or rude, especially to a fellow sailor.
Yours sincerely,
Rick Ritchie

Mr. Ritchie,
I am not sure of your legal right to anchor/wet store your vessel in Edgewater Lake for long periods of time. So to move the discussion along and avoid the on-line “huffing and puffing” about anchoring rights in Florida, lets change the scenario.
Lets say that you worked long hours for many years and sacrificed to save money to enable you and your family to enjoy your favorite locale and lifestyle. A beautiful mountain community where you paid extra for a building lot to build your home with an unimpeeded view of the mountains. Nice!
Now lets assume that a local mountain view lover from the next town decided to situate and store his motorhome on the right of way just left of your center view of the mountains, obstructing, oh maybe 10% of your view, and he WAS legally able to do so.
Now my thought on this is that the lot owner, you, would probably not mind or be too upset if the visitor stayed for a weekend, or maybe a week but….
If it is only about what is legal then we are in big trouble as a society.
Clif Kewley

Click Here To Open A Chart View Window, Zoomed To the Location of Edgewater Lake

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