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Georgia Liveaboard Law

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Until January it was illegal to liveaboard your vessel in Georgia, at least for any amount of time. All that is changed now with the Georgia Liveaboard Law.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources worked together with GAMBA, the Georgia Marine Business Association, to change the law. It’s good for business, and money talks. Reading Internet message boards over the years, it seems that many boaters simply bypassed Georgia by traveling on the ‘outside’ between South Carolina and Florida. And those who used the ICW didn’t dilly-dally. Georgia’s businesses suffered – and not just in the marine sector – and cruisers were shut out of enjoying, for any real amount of time, the coastal treasures the state has to offer.

“If a boater comes to a marina, he’s not only staying with the marina and paying to stay there, but he’s going to go to the grocery story, the restaurant, various types of shops and on and on,” said Charlie Waller, an owner of the Isle of Hope Marina on the ICW in Savannah. “So, that money filters into the economy.”

And Georgia’s business owners were missing out on it.

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Now marinas must be designated by the state to allow liveaboards. To qualify, each must have adequate pump out facilities. Currently, there are five: Isle of Hope Marina and Bull River Marina in Savannah, and Brunswick Landing Marina, Golden Isles Marina, and Jekyll Island Harbor Marina in the Golden Isles.

Rick Gillis, the Isle of Hope Marina’s other partner, said the obvious reason why he wanted Isle of Hope to become a designated liveaboard marina was to increase the number of boats there. But he suggested another. By accepting liveaboards, the marina is ensuring that no marina patrons are discharging overboard, emphasizing the marina’s environmental stewardship.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “a single discharge of human waste can be detected in a one-square-mile area of shallow, enclosed water. Human wastes can include Streptococci, fecal coliform, and other bacteria that contribute to incidences of human disease, shellfish bed closures, fish consumption advisories and algal blooms. Boats can be a significant source of fecal coliform bacteria in areas with high boating densities and low hydrologic flushing.” At Isle of Hope, most boats can be pumped out right at the docks.

Gillis takes environmental issues seriously, and is proud that Isle of Hope Marina was the first in Georgia to be recognized as a “green” marina for its efforts at protecting the state’s waterways, many of which are arguably the most beautiful and diverse in the southeast.

My wife and I had been wandering south on our trawler since last September, spending time at places we liked and enjoying the southeast coast. We left Annapolis in early January, liking each stop better than the last as we traveled south, arriving at Isle of Hope early in the year. Our planned couple-of-day stay turned into a couple-of-weeks and then a couple-of-more-weeks as we fell in love with the Savannah area. We had planned on returning to the Chesapeake for the summer, but instead applied for liveaboard status to the commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources via a simple one-page application.

What is it like living at Isle of Hope Marina with a handful of other relatively newly arrived liveaboards? Like our previous liveaboard marina in Connecticut, it is a small close-knit community, and we were quickly absorbed and became friends with all the other liveaboards.   We visit each other’s boats, get together for sightseeing excursions, gather for “docktails,” and have started a weekly pot luck dinner and movie night at the marina’s pavilion. We welcome and invite any transient boaters as well.

Being a liveaboard in a marina community makes you a member of the landlubber community too. Dan and Pat on Ironhore (the ‘h’ is silent) have a dog named Jingles. She is a certified therapy dog and they visit area nursing homes with her. Bob and Janet aboard the s/v King of Salem are doing local church missionary work. My wife Pamela and I have volunteered to help at Savannah’s 2013 Scottish games, and will soon be joining a local classic car club that raises money for local charities.

How does a marina benefit by having liveaboards besides the obvious increase in revenue from us? One way is increased visitor traffic. In our case, we’ve had people stop at Isle of Hope Marina because they either follow our blog (trawlerdriftaway.blogspot.com) or know us from Internet message boards and wanted to meet us in person.
Several boats have extended their stay in part because of the camaraderie here, and many of the transients that left will make it a point to return to see their new friends.

After hours, we welcome transients and catch their dock lines and act as the neighborhood watch. It is a home to us, not just a place to dock our boats. When a newly arrived transient boat developed a serious fuel leak after hours that spilled into the water, it was a liveaboard who called the marina staff, and liveaboards helped clean it up.

The liveaboard families here also watch out for and care for each other. Pamela was recently hired as a veterinarian technician and our only car here was my 1956 Thunderbird. Diane graciously gave us use of her car until I brought my truck down from upstate New York to be our daily driver. Gene flew to Las Vegas to have an operation. Daughter Megan accompanied him to care for him in his recuperation, and Frank drove them both to Jacksonville International Airport to catch their flight. When Ben and Joe’s little Yorkie became ill, they came to Pam seeking advice. And, whenever Pamela makes dinner, she often seems to make too much and a plate is prepared for the single men living aboard here. Birthdays are celebrated and important events noted.

Is this sense of community different than living in your typical neighborhood? Yes, I think so.  We obviously all have two things in common, namely boating and living aboard, so we always have something to talk about. We liveaboards tend to sit outside on our decks and cockpits and, as people did when they sat on their home’s front porches years ago, we chat with our neighbors and passersby.

Pam and I decided to take a field trip to Brunswick Landing Marina, another liveaboard marina about 90 miles south of Isle of Hope. We met a few of the liveaboards there who were happy to answer our questions. Their community is just like ours, only their get-togethers are on Wednesdays.

If you’re considering living aboard your boat, you now can – and should – add Georgia to your list.

For another viewpoint, check out Kathy Enzerink’s article Georgia Welcomes Liveaboard Boaters (with permit)

Dave Gibson and his wife, along with their grown daughter, two pitbulls and a cat, have meandered down the east coast on their old trawler from Stamford CT, up to Albany NY, and down to Georgia. Dave has had articles published in Cruising World, Good Old Boat, and Seafaring magazines, and posts daily entries and photographs on their blog at trawlerdriftaway.blogspot.com.


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