Recovering Derelict Vessels

Note:  2020 legislative changes are effective June 11, 2020.  A summary can be found here.  Also see 2SHB 6528.
Derelict or abandoned vessels put public safety and the health of our marine and fresh waters at risk. DNR's Derelict Vessel Removal Program is the state's key mechanism for addressing the problem of derelict or abandoned vessels in Washington's waters, and has been cited as a model for other jurisdictions seeking to deal with the problem of sunken or neglected watercraft.  
Since the program was instituted in 2002, more than 900 abandoned or neglected vessels have been removed from Washington waterways.
The Derelict Vessel Removal Program has been an extremely effective and successful tool since its inception; however, derelict vessels continue to pollute state waters, and every year more vessels are reported to the program that can be removed.  In the 2020 legislative session, changes to the Derelict Vessel Removal Account statutes strengthened the program's prevention measures.
Thanks to a $4.5 million infusion from the Legislature for the 2013-15 biennium, DNR's Derelict Vessel Removal Program was able to remove several larger vessels that were threatening navigation and the environment.  These large, abandoned hulks, including the Helena Star (costing $1,176,324 to remove), the Murph ($923,498), and the Golden West ($594,068).  In total, over the course of the biennium, DNR worked with ports and local governments to remove 100 vessels.

Prevention:  Addressing Boats before they become a problem

In 2014, DNR also instituted a new program to help owners of boats in disrepair voluntarily dispose of their boats before they become problems in the water.  The Vessel Turn-In Program allows owners of vessels less than 45 feet long to get rid of their boats, if they cannot afford to dispose of it themselves.  In recognition of the Vessel Turn-in Program's success, the 2020 Legislature removed the Vessel Turn-in Program's temporary pilot spending cap of $200,000, so the program can remove an increased number of vessels by capturing them before they become abandoned or derelict.
In 2014, the Legislature established requirements (RCW 79.100.150) that sellers of boats more than 65 feet long and more than 40 years old have to have the vessel surveyed and provide the buyer and DNR with a copy of the survey.  The seller must also require the buyer to show proof of insurance for the vessel.  The 2020 Legislature changed the length requirement by lowering it to 35 feet, in order to capture a larger number of vessels that pose a significant threat of becoming derelict or abandoned.
Working to help local agencies remove problem boats:
The following authorizing public entities may remove derelict or abandoned vessels within their jurisdictions:
  • DNR
  • Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission
  • Metropolitan park districts
  • Port districts
  • Cities, towns, or counties with ownership, management, or jurisdiction over the aquatic lands where the vessel is located.
DNR recovers sunken vessels like The Murph from Vashon Island through its Derelict Vessel program.
DNR can assist those entities in funding removal in the following ways: 
  • Reimbursement of up to 90% of the cost of removal and disposal.
  • Remaining 10% of the cost can be in the form of “in-kind” services.
  • Authorized public entities not able to undertake the removal of a derelict vessel may ask DNR to assume the lead.
  • Priority for the use of funds is for vessels in danger of breaking up, sinking, or blocking a navigational channel, or vessels that present a risk to human health, safety or the environment.
  • Providing guidance and assistance to agencies.
For more information see the Derelict Vessel Removal Program Guidelines.  Sample custody postings are available from DNR upon request.

Contracting with DNR to remove derelict vessels

Most of the work to remove and dispose of derelict and abandoned vessels on state-owned aquatic lands is done by private contractors. Information on bidding on derelict vessel removal contracts can be found in the block on right hand side of this page. 
You can see a list of vessels currently pending custody action under related links on right hand side of this page.