Anchoring in Florida

I’ve sailed up and down the USA east coast quite a few times and I’ve also explored the west coast of Florida and a large piece of the Gulf ICW. Every year snowbirds from the north head down the east coast Intracoastal Waterway, sometimes venturing off shore if the weather suits, to anchorages and marinas in the warm southern states, mainly Florida, and then head back again in the late spring. Many of these boats choose to anchor out rather than incur the cost and inconvenience of taking a marina berth every night.

Visiting a favourite haunt from my cruising days, Fort Myers Beach, I notice that one problem that rumbles on is the conflicting rights of boaters and homeowners when it comes to anchoring. Homeowners resent having boats anchored off their properties, invading their privacy and spoiling their view. On the other hand cruising sailors say their right to anchor on publicly owned waterways must not be jeopardised.

In my time here, if a homeowner were offended by the presence of a boat anchored off his land the homeowner would call the police and the police would go and order the boat to move. I experienced this myself a couple of times. I understand that in 2009 a state law was introduced which protected the boater’s right to anchor freely and at the same time proposed mooring fields in the most popular harbours. In this way it was expected that the rights of the boaters to have a safe place to stop temporarily would be preserved and, due to careful location I assume, anchored boats wouldn’t annoy the homeowners. And the problem of derelict, abandoned, boats would be alleviated.

And so, returning to Fort Myers Beach and checking out the anchorage has been interesting. When I anchored here in the 90’s the place to go ashore was Bob Wallace’s dock. Bob allowed cruising sailors to use his dock and fill their water jugs from his tap. All he asked is that you signed his visitor’s book, which I’ve gladly done twice, eight years apart. A man with a wonderful attitude towards cruising sailors was Bob Wallace.

Now Bob is no more and, in fact, anchoring is no more. There is a mooring field where the anchorage was and a dinghy dock and showers at adjacent Matanzas Inn who administer the mooring field on behalf of the local authorities. Many will welcome the introduction of moorings because the angst of anchoring will be relieved, nervous skippers will sleep more soundly. But there’s a price, of course – a mooring fee of around $15 a day. And you can’t help feeling that the freedom to cruise is somehow being further eroded, more control being introduced. Oh well.