Superyachts might travel more frequently through the waters of Chesapeake Bay and dock at the broad berths of Baltimore's Inner Harbor under a new state law.
Signed Tuesday by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, the law allows for pleasure boats between 80 and 200 feet and with a draft of less than 12 feet to move through state waters without bringing a licensed bay pilot on board.
Considered "emergency" legislation, the law took effect Wednesday, in time for the boating season, advocates said.
"Previously, bay pilots had to come on board these vessels, even if it was for a short dinner cruise or movement to fuel piers, which was a deterrent to these kinds of vessels visiting the Chesapeake Bay,” Jessie Bowling, of Baltimore Marine Centers, which operates five marinas in the harbor, told the Baltimore Sun.
"The passing of this new legislation means huge tourism spending and more jobs for the marine industry in Maryland," Bowling said. "These vessels spend tens of thousands of dollars alone on one fuel bill, plus money on provisioning, local entertainment, tourism and repairs."
The law could have similar effects on other communities with berths in the bay, such as Annapolis, supporters said.
Bowling said her company got the idea for the legislation from yacht operators who used to berth in Baltimore, but began skipping the bay on their seasonal trips between the Northeast and the Caribbean — citing the inconvenience of needing to hire a bay pilot every time they had to move their vessel.
"When they have to go get fuel at our fuel pier, and you're talking about a few yards, they would have to have a pilot on board," Bowling said.
With the pilot requirement gone, Bowling said she hopes to start attracting more yacht captains back to Baltimore.
The law applies to foreign-flagged yachts or American ones that engage in foreign trade, which account for a large percentage of the yachts that travel along the Eastern Seaboard. Flagging a yacht in a foreign country can diminish overhead costs. American-flagged yachts that do not engage in foreign trade already were allowed to travel in Maryland waters without a bay pilot.
Legislative analysts predicted that the law will not cost the state anything. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate and House.
Erin Montgomery, a Hogan spokeswoman, said the governor's "No. 1 priority is economic development" and the yachting measure will "increase tourism revenue."
Jay Dayton, a board member of the U.S. Superyacht Association, said in a statement that large yachts "have many choices on where to spend their time and money, so attracting them to the Chesapeake will have a very positive impact on local business.”