ATLANTA — Boaters in Georgia’s saltwater coastal region might soon be able to get permission to spend more than 30 nights on their vessels under a rule change to be considered next month by the Natural Resources Board.
Since 1992, state law has limited stays to 30 days. The cutoff was imposed by the General Assembly as a way to rid the Altamaha River of derelict houses on stilts that were considered eyesores as well as a source of pollution since they didn’t have sanitation facilities, according to Doug Haymans, policy coordinator with the Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Resources Division.
“They sort of did it in a broad, sweeping matter,” he said of the legislators.
Now, the owners of saltwater marinas that want to play host to visiting yachts are lobbying through their trade group, the Georgia Marine Business Association, for relaxed limits.
“The chatter out on the Internet is that Georgia is not boater friendly,” Haymans said.
For example, many Florida boat owners are required by their insurance to move their watercraft out of the state during hurricane season, according to Bubba Strickland, manager of Hogan’s Marina in Savannah and an association member.
“Georgia, with a no-live-aboard law, they are bypassing Georgia to hang out in North or South Carolina,” he said.
Yet transient boaters can be attractive tourists who buy groceries, fuel and tickets to sightseeing.
Besides, the current restrictions were essentially voluntary anyway, Haymans said.
“How do you enforce that?” he asked. “It was impossible the day it was written. The only way to know if someone stayed more than 30 days was to watch them, and you can’t do that for a misdemeanor.”
On Friday, the Coastal Marshlands Committee considers a proposal to allow longer stays for people staying in saltwater marinas that have sewage pump-out facilities. Boaters would have to lock or disable their vessel’s sewage-discharge mechanisms and keep a log of when they empty their sewage holding tanks.
Next, the DNR board will consider it at next week’s monthly meeting. That would start a 30-day period of public comment before the board’s September meeting when the new rule could be formally approved.
Strickland said the proposal will still protect the environment since sewage discharge remains illegal in state waters and it will still prevent derelict boats at anchor from becoming permanent residences.
“I don’t want to be a floating condo,” he said.
Although freshwater boaters would not fall under the proposed new rule, Augusta Marina operator Mike Stacy said lengthy stays are discouraged.
“We do have pump-out facilities, but as a general rule, we don’t usually want live-aboards,” he said. “We like to keep our areas open.”
The city’s two marinas include the 67-slip Riverwalk facility and the Riverfront Marina farther downstream, which has five large slips for bigger boats and houseboats, and a warehouse that typically stores about 40 boats.
Even the owners of houseboats do not typically live at the marina full time. “We require everyone to have a second address,” Stacy said. “But we aren’t there to watch 24 hours a day either.”
At Thurmond Lake, where many private boats are used, Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources began enforcement in 2005 of a law that prohibits flushing marine toilets into reservoirs. A similar rule has been enforced at lakes Lanier and Allatoona for more than a decade.
Under that rule, boat owners were required to modify their boats to disable or eliminate the direct discharge option into the lake. The owners also are required to have tanks pumped out at certified disposal sites instead.