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What to Do with a Derelict Vessel? 

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March 31, 2021

They say the two best days in a boater’s life are the first and the last days they own their vessel. But some vessels never get a proper sendoff. The saddest sight in a marina is a neglected vessel, covered in a timeworn tarp, barely floating, and a shadow of its former glory. Derelict vessels are not just an eyesore; they can also pollute the Sound, pose a hidden navigation challenge to active boaters, and can even threaten public safety. 

The Port of Seattle’s top priorities are to protect our precious natural resources and to keep other mariners safe. The Port owns and operates four recreational marinas in the Seattle area and serves over 2,000 moorage customers. One of the Port’s biggest challenges is handling abandoned or derelict vessels in marinas or surrounding waters that may threaten the environment and boater safety.  Since the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Derelict Vessel Removal Program was instituted in 2002, more than 900 abandoned or neglected vessels have been removed from Washington waterways. 

Mike DeSota, the Port’s Senior Environmental Program Manager, shares his knowledge about derelict vessels and how they get removed.

Derelict vessel at the dock

Q: Why do derelict vessels pose an environmental risk?

Most vessels operate using fuel, oil, or petroleum products. If the vessel were to sink, those materials could pollute the surrounding waters. Some of these vessels past their prime have people living aboard and using cleaning products and chemicals that could potentially end up in the water. Derelict vessels can float away and become stranded on shorelines, reefs, or marshes and become marine debris.

Q: What’s the Port's process for removing/disposing a derelict vessel?

There are two primary legislative rules the Port uses to remove or dispose of vessels:

  • Derelict Vessel Act: A streamlined process to take custody of and dispose of the vessel. It consists of a 30-day process plus an additional 30-day process for an owner to contest 
  • Port Statute RCW5308.320: A 60-day custody process with a 30-day waiting process and an auction of the vessel

Q: Does the Port work with other agencies during the removal process?

Depending upon the location of the craft, the Port relies on these trusted partners to remove and dispose of derelict vessels and respond to emergency situations:

Q: How many derelict vessels does the Port remove/dispose of each year?

The Port removes an average of six to ten derelict vessels every year. In 2021, the Port may remove up to 20 vessels, with most of them ranging from 20 to 30 feet in length. 

Q: What should boaters do if they spot or suspect a derelict vessel?

At or near Port facilities:

Outside Port facilities:

  • If you see a vessel of concern that is not in a Port facility, report it in the Washington DNR online reporting tool
  • For emergency response, dial 911 or contact the USCG Sector Puget Sound at (206) 217-6004

Additional resources

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