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Beach towns wrangle complaints about liveaboard boats

Madeira Beach is about to pass rules that will restrict how long the boats can stay.

MADEIRA BEACH — A woman showered on the deck of her boat, nude.

Another boat had an unusual passenger — a goat.

These and other liveaboard boats anchored in the Intracoastal Waterway in Madeira Beach may soon face substantial fines if they do not move, and their options are limited.

The City Commission is expected to give its final approval on Tuesday for a proposed ordinance that bans liveaboard boaters from the city’s waters unless they pay a $5 permit fee — and then they can remain anchored for only 72 hours and cannot leave their boats for more than eight hours at a time.

The ordinance permits liveaboard boats to dock at licensed marinas in the city. However, the city-owned marina does not allow liveaboard boats to dock there, unlike in the past.

The city decided to crack down on liveaboard boats anchoring in its waters after receiving repeated complaints.

Just where these boats will go is uncertain.

“It’s kind of like water. They seek the path of least resistance. When asked to move from one jurisdiction, they just go to another,” City Manager Bob Daniels said at a recent commission meeting.

In a memo to the commission, Daniels said "Liveaboard vessels are a growing issue in city waters and pose a threat to public health and safety.”

Daniels also is working with Pinellas County and nearby cities and towns to draft a “shared set of principles” to regulate and enforce rules regarding the anchoring of liveaboard boats.

Currently, there are about 40 boats anchored in Madeira Beach waterways and at least 15 have people living on them, according to Sgt. Richard Trump, who heads the Sheriff’s Office marine patrol unit.

Trump said most of the liveaboard boats are in the waters just northeast of the Tom Stuart Causeway Bridge between the American Legion building and the Sea Towers condominiums.

Others anchor near the Madeira Beach Elementary and Fundamental schools and the Bay Pines veterans hospital. Much of these waters are outside the city’s jurisdiction.

City Attorney Ralf Brookes said the city is considering annexing this part of the Intracoastal Waterway to gain legal jurisdiction to regulate anchored boats.

The people living on the boats often tie up their dinghies throughout the day at docks owned by a nearby Publix and McDonalds and at a dock owned by St. Petersburg College near a public school complex, prompting complaints, Trump said.

“If a boat is moored to a private dock, we cannot touch it,” Trump said.

Exacerbating the problem is that Madeira Beach is one of the few beach cities that has a significant protected anchorage area, according to Trump.

North of the city, the Intracoastal Waterway narrows significantly, deterring boats from anchoring there.

Most of the waters to the south are restricted for liveaboard boaters, while towns to the north have mixed rules regarding liveaboard boats.

A Treasure Island ordinance restricting liveaboards from anchoring in that city was the basis of the new Madeira Beach ordinance.

St. Pete Beach also restricts anchoring liveaboard boats in its waters for more than 24 hours without getting a permit.

Both cities’ permits are free, are good for only 72 hours, and cannot be issued to the same boat more than once in a given month.

Redington Beach does not restrict liveaboard boats, except to require that they be “seaworthy” and be able to maneuver.

North Redington Beach and Redington Shores completely ban liveaboard boats from mooring in their waters or at its docks.

Indian Shores, Indian Rocks Beach and Belleair Beach don’t address the issue of liveaboard boats in their town ordinances.

Belleair restricts anchoring of liveaboard boats to 72 hours.

Compounding the issue for boaters are the fees charged by the few marinas that accept liveaboard boaters.

“It’s always been tough finding a place to anchor your boat,” said Todd Nye, marina manager at the Blind Pass Marina.

He says there are only four marinas that officially dock liveaboard boats: Blind Pass Marina, Pasadena Marina, the Harborage Marina and the St. Petersburg Marina. Other marinas may accept liveaboards, but generally don’t advertise the fact.

The cost for for docking a liveaboard boat varies and is usually based on the length of the boat. Combined with other fees, the cost can range into the hundreds of dollars monthly.

The only other legal option is Gulfport’s new mooring field that accommodates and services up to 25 sailboats at a monthly cost of over $500 for liveaboard boats.