News from the Puget Sound Partnership

Marc Forlenza, Derelict Vessel Prevention Program Coordinator
(360) 472-1644

Alicia Lawver, Puget Sound Partnership
(360) 464-2011


Derelict Vessel Prevention Program expansion saves dollars, prevents pollution

San Juan County’s Derelict Vessel Prevention Program is being expanded throughout Puget Sound to combat the growing problem of derelict vessels in Washington waters. This program saves money and prevents pollution by identifying problem boats and connecting owners with community resources to help them properly handle the situation before the boats become unseaworthy and possibly sink.

“Prevention efforts are sometimes able to get owners to take responsibility for their vessels and solve the problem without further intervention from us,” said Joanruth Bauman, the Derelict Vessel Specialist from San Juan County. “That is the goal–through public education to decrease the incidents of derelicts in the first place, not just chase them after the fact.”

Derelict vessels are a big problem in Washington state—clogging and polluting waterways, as well as costing the public millions of dollars each year in clean-up efforts.

The Puget Sound Partnership has designated the San Juan County program as a Model Stewardship Program and provided a grant to the county to support their program and work with partners to develop prevention programs in King County, Pierce County, Snohomish County, Kitsap County, Jefferson County and Mason County.

“The Derelict Vessel Prevention Program is one of the more effective programs in Washington state,” said Sen. Kevin Ranker. “This program helps keep pollution out of our marine waters, removes visual eyesores from our beautiful vistas and saves hundreds of thousands taxpayer dollars by working proactively to prevent costly environmental disasters. I applaud the work of the Puget Sound Partnership to expand this powerful program. Our citizens, economy, and environment will all benefit.”
Proven success, saving money
In the last two years, San Juan County has found that vessels restored to seaworthiness or towed away before they sink cost the taxpayer only one-tenth to one-quarter as much as removals, and have prevented large quantities of oil, gas, caustic chemicals, Styrofoam, netting and other trash from entering the water. The effort, combined with removal of derelict and abandoned vessels, also reduced the number of boats that sank in winter storms by 80 percent in San Juan County.

Baumann calculates that in 2012, San Juan County responded to 19 vessels sunk or in trouble, which initially cost the public $76,586. In 2013, after the initiation of its derelict prevention program, San Juan County needed to remove only four vessels under the state’s Derelict Vessel Removal Program and dealt with 49 vessels of concern for a total cost of $23,521—less than one-third the cost from the previous year. This savings continues in subsequent years.

Working together
Program managers from San Juan County are training representatives from King County Sheriff’s Office, Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, Mason County Sheriff’s Office, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Kitsap County and the Pierce County nonprofit Citizens for a Healthy Bay to implement this proven program. Early work has highlighted the need for inter-county cooperation and tracking, which has become a key goal of the statewide expansion.

“There are many reasons why people let their boats become derelict and this grant will help us develop a program to better track the boats as they move from one jurisdiction to another,” said Lt. Rodney Rochon of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office. “Through this new partnership, we will be able to share information like never before.”

Many of the partners have been dealing with derelict vessels through the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR)’s Derelict Vessel Removal Program, which is funded by a portion of all boat registration fees. A large portion of those dollars are used to raise and dispose of vessels after they have sunk, often in combination with a Department of Ecology or U.S. Coast Guard pollution response.  While DNR attempts to make contact with vessel owners to have them address their own vessels while they are still floating, the agency is not staffed for a large-scale prevention response.

“The Derelict Vessel Removal Program was set up with the idea that local governments would take the lead on prevention and removals and would be supported by DNR, but in the economic downturn the interest from counties and cities had declined,” said Melissa Ferris, DNR’s Derelict Vessel Removal Program Manager. “We are excited by the interest that these agencies are showing. This prevention program will make significant dent in the number of abandoned or derelict vessels that agencies have to deal with.”

Recent proposed legislation from DNR (HB 1245 and HB 2457) also supports the prevention effort by changing the vessel registration penalties, requiring insurance of vessels in marinas, and providing funding for a vessel turn-in program.

“This, however, is a new way to deal with and mitigate the potential hazards before a vessel sinks and pollutes the water. We want to work with the boat owners and provide assistance to help them remove their boats from the water before they become an ecological disaster,” said Sgt. Jim Knauss of the King County Sheriff’s Office.

“Sometimes people have had a boat for a very long time and it has just gotten to be too much for them. Sometimes people buy a boat with real plans to fix it up, not realizing the time and expense that is required,” said King County Deputy Charlie Akers. “Whatever the reason, these are the vessels that we need to identify and get off the water before they sink and pollute the environment.”

How to help

Contact numbers for reporting derelict vessels or vessels of concern in the counties participating in the Derelict Vessel Prevention Program are listed below:

Jefferson             (360) 808-7171
King                      (206) 263-2582 or (206) 423-0160                                                                                        
Kitsap                   (360) 337-4605 or (206) 786-7627                             
Mason                  (360) 490-0605 or (360) 463-6406    
Pierce (CHB)        (253) 383-2429 or (253) 383-2429      
San Juan              (360) 472-1644   
Snohomish          (425) 388-5401 or (425) 388-5402

For other counties please call the Department of Natural Resources’ Derelict Vessel Removal Program at (360) 902-1574 or email

What to report

•    Boats that appear to be illegally moored and have not moved in more than 30 days.                              
•    Boats that appear to be listing to one side or another.
•    Boats that have unusual quantities of growth of algae, moss, grass or plant material on them.
•    Boats that have not moved in some time and the bilge pump continues to run or goes on frequently to remove water from the hull.
•    Boats that appear to have leaking fluids like oil, fuel, or waste going into the surrounding water.
•    Boats that have severe external deterioration of paint, wood, or other materials.
•    Boats where residents are throwing waste or other materials into the surrounding water.
•    A boat drifts off from its moorage and out in open water, becoming a hazard to other boats and vessels.

Note: This release references both San Juan County’s Derelict Vessel Prevention Program expansion and the Department of Natural Resources’ Derelict Vessel Removal Program. While both deal with issues related to derelict vessels, they are complementary programs that work in collaboration but are separate efforts. 

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