Georgia Welcomes Liveaboard Boaters (with permit)

Effective this past January 1, boaters wishing to stay aboard their vessels in Georgia waters more than the 30 calendar days per year can do so legally…sort of. As long as the boat owner obtains a permit

It is illegal to dump raw sewage into Georgia waters.

In 1992, rules were put in place limiting a liveaboard boater to 30 days per calendar year. Boaters have obeyed the rule and ignored the rule, and some Intracoastal Waterway transients have avoided Georgia altogether.

Effective this past January 1, boaters wishing to stay aboard their vessels in Georgia waters more than the 30 calendar days per year can do so legally…sort of. As long as the boat owner obtains a permit issued by the Georgia State Department of Natural Resources and the vessel is docked at an approved marina with a certified pump-out system, everyone is happy. However, liveaboard vessels at anchor and mooring balls cannot take advantage of the new Rule.

In a joint effort involving the DNR and GAMBA, the Georgia Marine Business Owners Association, the most recent rule changes were brought about to make the process of applying to live onboard a vessel easier. In the past, boaters had to write to the Commissioner in Atlanta, a sometimes lengthy procedure.

Chris Ferguson, General Manager of Morningstar Marinas at Golden Isles, with the green, tamper-proof seals, which he and his staff are responsible for attaching to the head valves after each pump-out. The marina must maintain pump-out records for each applicable liveaboard vessel.

“We’re not trying to discourage people from using Georgia waters,” said Buck Bennett of the DNR. “We’re trying to prevent the practices and problems we’ve had.”

The initial intent of the law back in the 1970s was pollution control. Hobos – living on rafts, sailing vessels and barges on the Altamaha River Delta – dumped raw sewage and oil into the water. But the law was impractical to implement.

In the recent past, enforcement was on a complaint-driven basis, often when boats were anchored within 150-feet of a private dock or in marshes and near boat ramps.

“We have tracked 250 sunken and derelict vessels since 2006,” said Bennett. “The Department received $180,000 in State funds and we moved 50 vessels from the Altamaha Delta between 2006-2008 before the subsidy ended.”

Chris Ferguson, General Manager of Morningstar Marinas at Golden Isles, says the law is antiquated. The current revision allows liveaboard boaters to stay longer on an interim basis, but the direction is to rescind the law altogether.

“It’s not a liveaboard issue, it’s a discharge issue,” said Ferguson. “There is another law on the books which states you can’t pump out in marinas or in coastal Georgia waters. Period.”

Since January, there have been 10 applications received by DNR at Brunswick. Six were approved and the others are awaiting additional documentation from the boat owners or marinas, according to Cindy Ridley who handles the permits. When application approval is delayed at least 30 days, a courtesy letter is sent to the owner and marina. If the issues are not settled timely, Bennett will visit the boat owner and marina to see how best to work out any problems.

“Our goal is to enable folks to use their boats,” said Bennett. “We will do our best to resolve things at the lowest level.

“There are a lot of boat owners coming through [Georgia] who want to stay three or four months,” said Charles Waller, president of GAMBA and Isle of Hope Marina. “Now they can stay here legally.”

The new rule is “absolutely huge, as it will draw a greater amount of boats into the area,” said Ferguson. “The economic impact for local communities near certified marinas will be enormous.”

A couple from Michigan plan to apply for a “liveaboard extension” so they can stay in Georgia for several months.

“The application is real simple and justified,” the couple said. “We don’t see any downside to it.”

The single-page application form requires basic information about the boat owner, confirms the marina has a certified pump-out facility and an affidavit from the marina operator stating the “boat is operational and can be used for its intended purpose.”

“There is no fee for the permit or application,” said Bennett. “It is virtually an automatic approval.”

“Most of our customers are highly educated and aware of the environmental concerns of today,” said Ferguson. “They are excited to have this opportunity to stay.”

During an informal discussion among long-term and transient cruisers in central Florida, comments ranged from, “the new rule favors a few marinas,” to “I use pump-out facilities, but I don’t want to have to stay at a marina,” to “between the EPA and NIMBY’s (Not In My Back Yard), they are trying to kill boating,” to “I will consider spending time in Georgia next winter.”

With 30 marinas in the state, five have certified pump-out facilities with unlimited capacity. They are Morningstar Marinas at Golden Isles, Jekyll Harbor Resort Marina, Brunswick Landing Marina, Bull River Marina and Isle of Hope Marina. Mooring fields at Savannah and St. Simons remain subject to the 30-day rule.

Federal grant money is available for marinas to install pump-out systems, with grants paying 75 percent of the equipment and installation.

“We have very few pump-out facilities in Georgia,” said Bennett. “We’re a little slower than the rest of the world.”

The purpose of the rule is to create a process whereby boaters can live onboard their vessels in coastal Georgia waters for more than 30-days. It allows for liveaboard extensions to be granted to owners of vessels moored in marinas that have sewage pump-out and/or dump facilities as described in the rule.

RULE 391-2-3-.05 Extension of Live-Aboard Privileges

“Liveaboard means a floating vessel or other water craft which is moored to a dock, tree, or piling or anchored in the estuarine waters of the state and is utilized as a human or animal abode. Liveaboards include but are not limited to monohulls, multihulls, houseboats, floating homes, and other floating structures which are used for human or animal habitation.”

“Marina means any dock facility that has one or more of the following:

(1) Includes fueling, maintenance or repair services (regardless of dock length);

(2) Is greater than 500 linear feet of dock space; or

(3) Has dry storage for boats in and upland storage yard or vertical rack system.”

Kathy Bohanan Enzerink
Kathy is a freelance writer who lives in Oriental, NC and is a frequent contributor to ALL AT SEA. You may contact her at [email protected]