PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Bay County residents have been concerned about the area’s abandoned boats for years, and the hurricane hasn’t helped.
However, what some think are abandoned boats may not be abandoned at all.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Enforcement Officers patrol the waters multiple times a year, checking to see if seemingly abandoned boats have residents on-board.
Some residents on land have said they’ve seen squatters living on what they call derelict vessels.
The FWC said, like books, don’t judge a boat by it’s cover.
“The perception is that there may be squatters on boats when the reality is that the people on the boats may legally be there and have a lawful presence to do so,” said Robert Ramos, an officer with the FWC.
He said sometimes boats are mistaken for derelict vessels due to their condition.
“We’ve heard the words eye-sore used before to describe some of the boats,” said Ramos. “Just because it might be unattractive to one person, somebody else may call it home sweet home.”
He said there are strict guidelines for FWC officers to follow in order to call a vessel truly ‘derelict’ and proceed with an investigation.
“You got to do a little more research on it before you can make a determination on it,” said Ramos.
That research can take months.
The owner must be contacted; sometimes that owner has moved or even changed multiple times by the time the investigation is underway.
“It’s a tedious process when you can’t get ahold of the owners because they may not be here,” said Ramos.
According to the FWC, there were eight active derelict vessel investigations in Bay County before Hurricane Michael. Some of those vessels were successfully removed.
After Hurricane Michael, the FWC reports that around 175 displaced boats were removed .