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States deal with increase in abandoned boats

State officials across the country are taking steps to deal with an increase in derelict boats abandoned by their owners in a tough economy.

In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill this month that gave local governments the power to seize abandoned vessels, according to a report in USA Today.

The problem was growing faster than the state's ability to deal with it, says Michael Nichols, legal counsel to Democratic state Rep. Antonio Cabral, who introduced the bill.

"The recession was affecting people's ability to keep and maintain a boat," Nichols says. "To have abandoned vessels taking up valuable space in the marinas and harbors was a problem."

In Washington state, one of seven states where lawmakers set aside money to collect and dispose of abandoned boats, the number of vessels collected rose from 16 in all of 2009 to 17 in the first half of this year, Melissa Ferris, manager of derelict vessel removal at the Department of Natural Resources, told the newspaper.

In Florida, which has a million registered boats, marinas have had to close or raise prices, pushing boat owners out, said Richard Moore, chief of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission's boating division.

"We're seeing a large number of impromptu anchorages popping up in areas around the state ... where people are just parking a bunch of boats," he told USA Today.

In California, where regulators say thousands of boats litter state waters, a program in the pending state budget would allow owners to turn in boats without penalty.

Twelve states, including Kansas, Missouri and Tennessee, have passed laws on abandoned boats in the last five years, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most streamline the process of taking title and disposing of boats when owners cannot be found.

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