Expanding vessel turn-in programs and water safety awareness

Washington state DNR and its partners are piloting free vessel turn-in events to make a dent in derelict vessels

Expanding vessel turn-in programs and water safety awareness
The aptly named and frequently photographed S/V Metaphor is no more. (Future Tides/Cara Kuhlman)

A month of maritime and water safety awareness

May 15 marked Washington state’s first annual Water Safety Day.

Learn how this day and Yori's Law came about: One woman’s tragedy propels statewide campaign on water safety for kids by Bellamy Pailthorp, KNKX

Plus: An adorable yet direct video about kids meeting a lifeguard made in partnership with No More Under, the organization founded by Yori's mom Chezik Tsunoda.

On May 18 certain circles of social media lit up for International Women in Maritime Day.

Women Offshore and Sea Sisters are both nonprofits promoting women in the maritime industry that actively share stories and resources on Instagram.

Plus: Maritime Washington's Women on the Waterfront storytelling series features more than a dozen local women in maritime, past and present.

National Safe Boating Week is underway, taking place May 18– 24.

There's free classes, resources and even a life jacket-wearing, water-skiing squirrel involved but the No. 1 message: Always wear a lifejacket on the water.

Plus: 9 tips for safe boating from the Coast Guard 

And to cap it off, May 22 is National Maritime Day, recognizing U.S. maritime traditions.

A sailboat with a torn sail, covered in barnacles washed up on a beach with two dogs nearby.
A possibly abandoned, or at least long unattended, sailboat beached on Whidbey Island. (Future Tides/Cara Kuhlman)

Vessel turn-in events aim to make a dent in derelict vessels

Since 2002, local and state agencies have had the authority and some restricted funding to remove derelict and abandoned vessels from Washington waters.

However, a spending cap limited the number of vessels the state Department of Natural Resources could accept through its vessel turn-in program, which targets vessels that are likely to become abandoned or derelict. In 2020, new legislation removed that spending cap and got a permanent funding boost in 2022.

As of February 22, DNR listed 296 vessels of concern, down slightly from 312 in September 2022. Counties, ports, local tribes, and conservation groups like the Northwest Straits Commission, are partnering with DNR to get more vessels of concern off the water.

In April, a group of such partners piloted a free vessel turn-in recycling event in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Fourteen vessels, including Metaphor, were pulled out and dismantled. The next vessel turn-in event will be at the end of July in Skagit County at the LaConner Marina.

Owners interested in turning in their vessels must apply and be pre-approved before June 24. Vessels should be less than 34ft in length but larger vessels will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

DNR's Vessel Turn-In program website has more info and also includes other options if an owner doesn't qualify for free removal.

Why it's on my radar: According to my camera roll, derelict or abandoned boats can be seen all around Puget Sound. There's a lot of interest, and an increasing investment of time and financial resources, into address the issue state-wide.

I remain curious about any common trends among boat owners which may have led them to abandoning vessels. Every time I walk past a once-loved vessel on the dock with an official notice hanging off the rails, I wondered what we might learn from the stories behind these boats.

I'm also eager to learn more about the disposal process and if recycling vessel materials, like fiberglass, has gained any traction. There are also boat builders considering these disposal challenges from the start.

Listen: Fuel, oil and batteries are often the immediate concerns when it comes to protecting the environment from a derelict vessel, but fiberglass is problematic too. "The Problem with Boating’s High-Fiberglass Diet", by Norman Miller for Hakai Magazine, digs into the science and scale of this problem.

Read: An ode to Metaphor and other old boats at the end of their journey by Kari Koski, the coordinator of San Juan County’s Derelict Vessel Program, for Salish Current.

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