Hurricane Ian displaced over 7,000 boats on both land and water when it struck southwest Florida on Sept. 28, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
In some cases, masses of boats in marinas were pushed ashore on top of each other. In others, individual boats were carried miles inland and lost in mangrove country.
Where are all those boats now?
The FWC has just deployed a wave of officers to join local personnel and partner agencies in finding and assessing these boats and either getting them back to their owners or having them salvaged or removed from the environment.
Since the assessment process began, the FWC has received hundreds of calls on its Hurricane Ian Vessel Hotline (850-488-5600).
The agency has located and assessed over 2,100 boats displaced on state waters, but thousands more remain lost in remote areas, under debris, or perhaps totally destroyed. Research teams are contacting owners and insurance companies to provide information and guidance and reunite vessel owners with their property.
“Wave One of the FWC Displaced Vessel Deployment Team returned home after a very productive two weeks in the field. This group of 16 dedicated officers worked long hours on the waters of Lee County, locating derelict vessels and contacting owners. Wave Two is now in place and will carry on with the mission,” said FWC Boating and Waterways Section Representative Capt. Travis Franklin. “I’m proud of the work accomplished by these officers as they help reunite owners with their boats, while facilitating the removal of derelict vessels from our waterways.”
Last week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced efforts to expedite identifying and removing vessels and debris from the area affected by Hurricane Ian. The FWC is working closely with the Division of Emergency Management, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Coast Guard and local governments to identify and remove vessels and other debris from waterways and upland private and commercial properties.
The newly created State Debris Cleanup Program will assist Hurricane Ian survivors with the removal of displaced and abandoned titled property. Residents can request the removal of debris including vehicles, boats, motorcycles, trailers and ATVs. To make a request, visit IanDebrisCleanup.com to report the presence of debris.
Owners of derelict vessels who lack the resources to have their boat repaired or returned to the water, or if their vessel is determined to be beyond repair, may release ownership of their vessel.
This process can be initiated by contacting the FWC through the Hurricane Ian Vessel Hotline at 850-488-5600 and requesting to turn over a derelict vessel. An FWC representative will then contact the owner to explain the waiver process and facilitate the potential turnover of ownership. To date, the FWC has received approximately 50 waivers from affected boat owners.
Tuesday, Nov. 15, will mark the end of the 45-day period for vessel owners to either remove a derelict boat from the waters of the state or bring it into a non-derelict condition.
If a derelict vessel is not brought into compliance or removed from the water by that day, it will be treated as any other derelict vessel, per the FWC. At this time, the agency will not be charging displaced vessel owners with a criminal violation of Florida law.
But the decision to hold boat owners responsible for removal, destruction and disposal costs could be made at a future date.
Vessel owners are encouraged to hire a salvage company to recover their boat to provide the safest method possible for the vessel and the environment, per the FWC.