Recovering Derelict Vessels
   

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 in 2002. While derelict vessels continue to pollute state waters and cost taxpayers, recent improvements to the program have made it more efficient and effective. The 2020 Washington Legislature adopted SB 6528, which gives the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) more prevention and enforcement tools that will reduce environmental damage, minimize navigation hazards and hold down costs. This legislation took effect June 11, 2020, and includes new tools for:
More resources for the Vessel Turn-In Program
DNR’s Vessel Turn-In Program allows boat owners who can no longer take care of their vessels to turn them in for responsible disposal. Disposing a vessel before it becomes derelict in Washington’s waters is considerably less expensive and less damaging. The bill removed a funding cap that had limited the program to spending $200,000 per biennium. With the cap removed, DNR can dispose more vessels before they become derelict or abandoned.
Reduced length limit on vessels subject to secondary liability law
Prior to the bill’s passage, the law required a survey and insurance on the transfer of vessels over 65 feet and older than 40 years. Failure to do so left the seller financially liable for removal costs if the vessel became derelict or abandoned. The bill reduced the length limit to 35 feet, meaning buyers of smaller vessels now fully understand the vessel’s condition and insurance requirements, and makes sellers liable for costs of recovering these vessels, which make up the majority of DNR’s recovered vessels.
Extends ticketing authority to the DNR
The bill gave DNR the authority to ticket vessels that are not properly licensed or registered with the state. This authority, developed with the partnership of stakeholders, law enforcement and legislators, will make it easier to identify at-risk vessels, and to contact owners of vessels that do become derelict or abandoned. Staff will educate boaters on proper registration requirements on first contact, and will only ticket as a last resort.
Derelict & Abandoned Reporting Tool (DART)
 
Note: 2020 legislative changes are effective June 11, 2020. A summary can be found here.  Also see 2SHB 6528. 
 
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 2020, the Legislature updated inspection requirements (RCW 79.100.150) that sellers of boats more than 65 feet long and more than 35 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, 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.