Don't abandon ship!

Derelict vessels should draw harsher enforcement, vigorous punishment

Owning a boat can be like owning an elephant. It can be cool and fun, and you can brag about it to your friends. But the reality of upkeep too often becomes a pain that, at some point, you no longer want to deal with.

So you choose to get rid of it.

That's tough with an elephant. You can't just ditch him on the side of the road.

But with a boat it's easy. Too easy, in Georgia.

Abandoned boats are a problem on Georgia's waterways, and it isn't getting any better by ignoring it. Two groups that aren't ignoring it are the state Department of Natural Resources and, more locally, Savannah Riverkeeper.

There are about two dozen derelict vessels between Augusta and Savannah, by the Riverkeeper's estimate. There could be more. So the nonprofit group is trying to raise $15,000 to get rid of these boats that are leaking fuel, obstructing marine traffic and generally sitting as environmentally unpleasant eyesores on what otherwise would be a charming river.

We encourage you to donate to the cause -- the Riverkeeper can be reached at savannahriverkeeper.org, or through its Facebook page. Your gift will be 100-percent tax-deductible.

In a perfect world, though, such groups wouldn't have to shake a tin cup and ask for money to remove property for which the owners should be chiefly held responsible.

Owning a boat in Georgia isn't like owning a house or a car. Or even an elephant. The state requires all watercraft to be registered, but that's about it. Boats in Georgia don't need titles, and they're not required to carry insurance.

There doesn't seem to be a firm, legally vested sense of ownership when you have a boat in Georgia. So probably as a result, if a person damages it or just grows tired of the hassles that come with owning a boat, the boater can just leave it and essentially forget about it.

There are laws on the books that deal with folks who abandon boats, but in Georgia the so-called penalties make a slap on the wrist look utterly draconian.

Many state lawmakers have said how much they treasure Georgia's water resources. They should put the force of law where their mouths are and craft legislation imposing much stronger penalties against people who are careless enough to abandon vessels that harmfully clutter our waterways.

Make it so bureaucratically and financially unpleasant to abandon a boat that owners won't even consider it as an option.

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