Potential Problems With Florida Fish and Wildlife Service Patrols (FWC) in Marathon, Florida’s Boot Key Harbor
Every night for the past two weeks the boaters in Boot Key Harbor have been harassed by the FWC. I understand they need to do their job, however if the following is “doing their job” then I don’t even recognize the place I grew up.
Shining lights in boat windows at 10:30PM, boarding boats when people are fast asleep. This is my home and my daughters bed is right by the window, what right do they have to shine lights in my house waking us up when not investigating anything, it’s become a nightly occurrence.
Tonight they tried to tell a group of us on land to leave the area at the city marina. We stood fast and refused to leave since we were in no way interfering with their duties and we paid to be there. Dictating our actions on land when not on the water seems a slight overstep. The boaters of Boot Key Harbor are being harassed by the FWC, they have written unwarranted tickets to people just arriving and boats are leaving because of it. They even forced someone to FL register their boat, the person actually got a refund from the tax collectors because the FWC was absolutely wrong. A boat that was here 19 days received a ticket for not being FL registered, 19 days in the state and they wrote a ticket. The best one I’ve heard was them tell a person they were giving them a warning for having wet life jackets, apparently wet life jackets don’t float
I understand Marathon is a training ground for the FWC, but if this is the training they are receiving it scares me to think what’s coming. The boaters in Marathon are sick of it and ready to take a stand, we need an attorney to stop the midnight searches, blinding spotlights and floating checkpoints that harass law abiding boaters, we are not the enemy. If anyone can suggest someone in the local area, it would be very much appreciated.
S/V Thin Red Line
First of all I have no problem with the USCG and their authority, this strictly has to do with the FWC in Marathon please try to stay on topic.
I am sorry I haven’t had a whole lot of time to respond but I have been actively organizing several things including a presence at the Marathon city council meeting this Thursday at 5:30pm. We have contacted the mayor, Keynoter newspaper as well as other media outlets. The harassment has been of ALL boats in Boot Key, both anchored and moored. The city marina is aware but has no pull, the local sheriff also has his hands tied and can do nothing to call them off. The harbormaster attempted to arrange a meeting with a FWC representative and was denied.
We are encouraging everyone to record any and all interactions with FWC via smartphone, camera etc. People are not enjoying this wonderful community, afraid to simply dinghy to shore, even legally. They are writing “warning” tickets to people for things that do not exist, things they couldn’t actually cite or write an actual ticket for. They hover around the dinghy dock and point to people that aren’t even operating a vessel and shout “come here”. The roaming of the harbor past 11pm while randomly spotlighting vessels, shining their lights in ports and boarding boats without owners is where I draw the line. My 8 year old daughters bed is right at our port window, what right do they have to wake me, or my family for no reason?
The other night we had a potluck and they hovered around stopping any and all dinghies they could. Once as they were leaving the canal at WELL over idle speed (idle speed in all manmade canals is posted right there) we told them to slow down and they did only to tell us “Hey guys, catch ya later” while laughing and resuming their harassment.
A few nights ago I called FWC dispatch to report a manatee in distress entangled in crab traps, I was told they were busy and the dispatcher did not even take all of my information. They did call back the next afternoon to find out more, however they were there later that night to harass boaters. I thought they were the Florida Fish & Wildlife? Yet they have no concern when I call for that exact thing? They were too busy writing a ticket for someone having “wet lifejackets” Yep that’s right wet life jackets.. Did you know according to FWC if your lifejackets are wet they won’t float..
We need help, we need to show them we know the limit of their power and will not accept abuse. I am in a unique position because I am a city employee, however I am also a resident here in Boot Key, but first and foremost I’m a boater and this is my neighborhood too.
S/V Thin Line
This is the response from the FWC. If more of us contact them it may have an effect!!!
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Deranek:
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Office of Inspector General (OIG) received your email concerning FWC officers in Marathon, i.e. harassing boaters in Boot Key Harbor. We will look into the allegations and inform you of the outcome.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Office of Inspector General
620 S. Meridian Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1600
The fwc has agreed to a meeting at the marina on the evening of the 18th. We will all be there. Should be an interesting night. I believe that a great deal of the problem is new young officers. They wrote one guy a warning for not having an anchor light on his dingy that was tied to his anchored boat with a six foot line. (His sailboat did have an anchor light) It really has reached the point of supidity. We are paid up till the 2nd, thinking of leaing then and spend the rest of the season in Islamarada.
The city council meeting went better than anyone could have imagined. The city manager brought the issue to the attention of everyone before I even had a chance to speak, the mayor and the city council are extremely troubled by the actions of the FWC. I spoke in front of the largest attended meeting in the history of the city of Marathon, our presence was obvious and kudos to everyone that rallied together. The mayor and the city council will be attending our meeting with FWC here at city marina on Dec 18th at 6pm, along with the city manager.
The FWC Sgt that is representing the FWC at the meeting used to be an officer here in Marathon and still lives here. When he was here the other day we discussed several of the issues at hand and both sides of the story were presented to each other. While I agreed most of the tickets were valid, he also stated that it wasn’t the right way to go about things. “just because officers can do something, doesn’t mean they should” We discussed the fact that while many of the tickets written were law, several of them were ones nobody would ever write. For instance there is a law that states your dinghy, if not tied up beside your boat needs to have it’s own anchorlight. However who writes that ticket? A new officer trying to make an impression that’s who .
The Sgt will be helping us understand what they are looking for, discussing the legality of their boardings and what they can and can’t do, as well as acting as a point of contact if we have any further problems. On that note, we have not seen and FWC boat in the harbor in 4 to 5 days, maybe someone received a memo? Boot Key is worth stopping, it’s a wonderful place full of families and a strong sense of community. My twochildren are both surrounded by otherkids and right now the harbor has well over 15 kids. The problem appears to be on the mend and things seem to be on their way back to normal.
Thank you CF and all those that are supporting our cause. Fair winds..
Thin Red Line
Time to contact the chamber of commerce and let them know you will not be spending any money there.
I would love to hear all the facts from both sides on this issue. We were planning on visiting for a winter, but’¦..
I hope the situation is not without repair. It would be nice to know all the facts and circumstances. I have been to Boot Key and the Keys many times without problem.
Here is the harbor web cam http://www.ci.marathon.fl.us/government/departments/marina-and-ports/marina-webcam/
Here is a link to the OP’s (Thin Line) update on the city council meeting and it’s results regarding the current situation in Boot Key Harbor.
There are several different issues here, widely misunderstood, and jumbled together. That is not helpful to reasoned thought and discussion. It amazes me how little cruisers know about this topic and how willing many seem to be to give up their rights and their privacy ‘“ and mine ‘“ so easily.
First, the legal authority of the USCG comes directly from the United States Congress. There is an excellent article on USCG boarding authority, published in the USCG Summer, 2009, issues of `Proceedings’ Magazine, page 29, here: http://uscgproceedings.epubxp.com/i/85792. Those that argue the extra-Constitutionality of USCG boardings would benefit from knowing that the same congress (1790) that gave us the 4th Amendment gave the predecessors of today’s Coast Guard the authority to board all vessels in US waters. That congress, I infer, UNDERSTOOD the meaning of the Constitution that they, themselves, had written. Note that other FEDERAL AGENCIES appear to have that same boarding authority, including the Navy and CBP. Now I grant you, in 1790, there weren’t many live-aboard long range cruisers. And probably none with innocent motives. Nevertheless, that USCG operates with full Congressional authority, and full governmental immunity, for better or for worse.
Second, what is really at issue in Marathon is the LEGAL authority of state, municipal and `other,’ miscellaneous agencies; the USCG has no role in that discussion. I don’t know if boardings by these state and lesser agencies has been litigated anywhere, but assuming the stories about what’s going on in Marathon are true and correct, I’d guess that FWC is far in excess of US Constitutional authority. Some `federal’ authorities ‘“ USCG, CBP ‘“ may be exempt from the need to demonstrate probable cause, but state, county and local authorities most probably are not. It’s even possible that these agents are operating within their state’s adopted statutory authority, but if that’s so, the adopting state legislature would be unconstitutionally exceeding their authority. This is the same issue cruisers face in the Lower Hudson Valley with 30 +/- local police agencies all doing boardings. And we all remember the armed boarding done by the Volusia County, Florida, sheriff’s department. That got swept under the rug, but it was certainly excessive under the guise of a safety or MSD inspection, and it happened because these agencies operate beyond their authority in the first place.
From our position as cruisers, the only way this can be stopped is for someone to litigate it through the courts, as Dave Dumas did in the Marco Island anchoring debacle. Until a judge issues a restraining order, jurisdictions and rogue officers can operate any way they wish. That appears to be what FWC is doing in Marathon, or at least, allowing a rogue officer to do. Until a judge issues a restraining order, the only tool we have as cruisers is public opinion and economic withdrawal.
One last thing. Let me emphasize, I am NOT lobbying for people being allowed to pump overboard or for ignoring unsafe operation. But, I also do not approve of the excessive and inappropriate use of police power by states, counties, municipalities and agencies. There is NEVER a reason for `boating safety inspections’ to take place after dark, and certainly not when people might reasonably be asleep aboard!