It is often illegal to abandon a boat unless the circumstances are particularly dire.
Instead of abandoning a boat, it is crucial that boat owners either officially transfer deed and ownership of the vessel, or they have it adequately removed and scrapped if the boat is beyond repair.
However, there are also instances where boats can be stolen and then abandoned by thieves once they have scrapped the boat for the valuable parts.
In this article, we will discuss the ethical and legal implications of abandoning your boat, as well as how a boat ends up being abandoned in the first place.
Here are 8 reasons that a boat can be abandoned:
1. Severe Weather Conditions
One of the most popular reasons that a boat can be abandoned is from severe weather conditions.
During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, thousands of boats were displaced because of the enormous storm and devastating flood that ransacked the gulf coast of the United States.
Obviously, this wouldn’t be cause for legal action against the owners because this was a major national crisis, but not all severe weather conditions are a hurricane.
Therefore, if you do lose your boat to a thunderstorm – say it becomes unmoored and drifts away – you will still be responsible for it when it pops up somewhere and is reported.
Most boats commonly go missing or come unmoored during a storm. If your boat is found and reported to the authorities, you will have a short amount of time to pay to get that boat either returned to your home or marina, or you will have to pay to get it scrapped.
If you do not remove the boat in the allotted time given to you by local authorities, you could be slapped with a fine and jail time.
2. High-Cost Boat Removal
Sometimes a boat has outlived its ability to sail, and more often than not, owners are just ready to be done with it.
However, trying to sell or pawn off your broken or outdated boat can be really difficult because no one wants to put in the money and time it will take to fix it up. Therefore, the best solution is to pay to have it removed by the proper authorities or towing services to bring to a boat scrap yard.
When that happens, most owners believe that they are better off dumping the boat somewhere or cutting it loose and letting it float out to sea.
This is incredibly irresponsible and definitely illegal.
Not only might the boat run aground and become a pollutant to the natural ecosystem, but it could also become a dangerous obstacle for other boats out on the water.
If you are trying to get rid of an old boat, you will need to pay the money to have the vessel removed.
Boat salvage yards and local governments are available to help you in your area, but if you are not near one of those services, call around to towing companies and see if they can connect you with someone who does boats.
3. High-Cost Boat Maintenence
Just like the cost of boat removal, fixing up a dead boat can cost a lot of money, time, and effort on the part of the owner.
If you are not financially prepared to fix up your boat when it needs fixing, the boat will fall deeper and deeper into disrepair.
This often happens when a boat owner has been left a boat or gifted one or has had the same boat for more than ten years. Often that boat will not hold up to regular use nor wear and tear over such a long period of time, and the boat owner will become tired of it.
When this occurs, boatowners are more likely to abandon their boat than to shell out the money for repairs.
However, you can try to sell the boat if it is salvageable to someone who enjoys a fix-up project.
You can also try to donate it to a vocational school for vessel repair and mechanics.
4. Financial Hardship
There are a lot of reasons why someone would abandon a boat due to financial hardship.
A boat is quite luxurious for your average family and usually comes with a lot of responsibility and financial ties. If you arent’ ready to pay for the required maintenance a boat needs, don’t buy a boat.
This will prevent the abandonment and, therefore, pollution of rusting old vessels in marshy areas, lakes, and even the ocean.
Nothing is sadder than seeing a rusting ship ooze into the clear sands of a coastline, forgotten and sinking into the soil.
Theft is actually a huge problem when it comes to cars and boats because oftentimes, the thief is looking to scrap parts of the boat, not keep the boat for themselves.
Once a thief has collected your boat, they will scrap pieces of it and resell those parts for a profit. Then they will dump the boat somewhere, usually after removing any kind of identification of the owner, and leave the boat there for someone else to find.
If your boat is stolen, it isn’t your fault that the boat was abandoned.
Furthermore, if you reported the theft to the authorities, once the boat is found, you will be notified of the find. Even without identification of the boat ownership left on board, the description you give to the authorities is crucial in getting your boat returned to you.
However, keep in mind that a boat theft will most likely mean that you’ll be missing some essential pieces, and usually the valuable ones.
Therefore, having boating insurance comes in handy when you need to make a claim and repurchase those crucial parts such as the motor or navigational systems.
Finally, some thefts are temporary, such as pranks or neighbors borrowing your boat without permission. Hopefully, those instances are brief, and your boat is returned to you without any missing pieces.
6. Lost or Drifted Boats
Sometimes a boat comes loose from totally normal or occasionally strange circumstances.
Even if a significant storm hasn’t torn your boat from the marina and dumped it a few miles inland somewhere, that doesn’t mean boats don’t sometimes just drift away!
First-time boat owners know that tying up your boat correctly is essential in keeping your vessel safe. It will secure it to the dock, and you won’t have to worry about it bumping into neighbor boats or floating away.
However, there are also instances where people have drifted away while INSIDE the boat.
If the anchor comes loose and you are still on board, but say your boat had a mechanical error or you were asleep, then you may have to abandon your boat when you try to leave to get help. Either that or you will have to call the coast guard for a tow.
These abandonments are accidental and temporary, but again, the owner is still responsible for retrieval of the boat should the local authorities find it.
A boat wreck can be a pretty nasty event, and even traumatic if you are on board at the time.
If the boat begins to sink and you call for help, the coast guard may not be able to save the boat or tow it to shore before it disappears beneath the waves.
If this is the case, then there is a good chance that the boat will end up at the bottom of the lake or sea.
When you lose a boat to sinking, the owner is still legally liable to mark that location with a buoy, signal, or lantern and contact boat removal services to get the boat out as quickly and efficiently as possible.
This can cost quite a bit, but the good news is that most boat insurance will cover the cost of a boat removal once you have filed and processed your claim.
8. Historical Wrecks
One cool thing for modern explorers to… well, explore, are historical shipwrecks.
Even wrecks from as late as the 1970s are filled with interesting finds and usually become a reef for fish – provided that the boat is not rusting and leaking harmful chemicals into the water.
If you do see a wreck that looks like it has been there for a while, most likely, no one is legally liable for its removal anymore. The amount of time that has passed classifies it as a historical wreck.
Perhaps a 1970s abandoned boat isn’t as impressive as a ship from the early 1900s or earlier, but the potential pollution or exploration that these crafts pose on the ecosystem can be both harmful and exciting.
Often, local governments or committees will decide if they want to remove a harmful wreck that no one has a claim to anymore, in which case proper removal services and authorities are called.
It is important to remember that even though a boat can become burdensome under the right circumstances, abandoning your boat is not the answer.
You must take great care to dispose of your vessel properly and have it taken to the right salvage yards.
If you don’t, you can harm others, animals, and even the environment.
Shelby Sullivan is our specialist when it comes to pontoon boats and recreational watercraft. She is often found sailing the freshwater lakes of Michigan. She is also a light-traveler who enjoys camping and traveling the world. Read more about Shelby here.