Where do boaters’ rights end and governmental mandates take charge when it comes to living on boats?
STATEWIDE — The term “sneakaboard” certainly garnered the attention of The Log’s readers. Coverage in our April 20-May 3 issue was an opening salvo, bringing the term “sneakaboard” to the head of the line to explore what it means and why it matters to boaters and harbor managers alike. People living aboard a boat without permission might not be a new topic.
The bigger question is to what extent living aboard one’s boat should be regulated in the first place, if at all. To date there appears to be no answers, let alone a cohesive direction as to how to manage those who seek to live aboard their boats. Is a contractual relationship between liveaboard and marina enough? Should harbors and marinas be more flexible with the mix of liveaboards they allow in light of what elected officials and the media identify as a widespread housing crisis in Southern California?
Readers provided interesting feedback of our coverage, all of them opposing regulation, in one form or another, of living arrangements aboard a vessel.
“With the housing shortage that we are experiencing in California, I am surprised that the ports/cities/marinas have not expanded the percentage of liveaboards allowed,” Lucinda Lilley said on a Facebook share of The Log’s article.
Lisa Barrick, who identifies as a liveaboard, wrote she found the term “sneakaboard” to be misleading.
“As a liveaboard I was expecting to hear about people actually sneaking in and onto other people’s boats, which has been known to happen. It’s the bigger issue, not the vessel owners who decide they want to liveaboard their own property,” Barrick wrote to The Log via Facebook.
Barrick raises fair and valid questions. Is it fair to identify someone who makes his or her boat a residence as a “sneakaboard” (versus someone who might come onto a recreational vessel without the owner’s permission)?
Jed Humphries, another liveaboard, said marinas and harbors should focus their respective efforts on cleaning up abandoned or derelict vessels, instead of cracking down on those seeking to use their boats as a home.
“As someone who has liveaboard, both as a sneakaboard and now as someone who holds a liveaboard permit for my vessel, I can tell you that the main issue is not the sneakaboards who try want to pay for the services that they are using, but the derelict people that buy floating piles of garbage from harbor masters and then further trash the boats, docks and surrounding areas,” Humphries wrote to The Log.
The liveaboard life is a lifestyle decision, according to reader Chris Winter, who also commented on The Log’s Facebook page.
“I am surprised by all the government interference with a chosen way of life,” Winter wrote. “If you are paying for services, space to occupy, utilities and have the ways and means to support it, what business is it of anyone whether you choose to live on your own property?
Boat owners should not be treated as squatters of their own property, according to Capt. Mike Thompson of Six Pac Marine Services.
“It does not surprise me though only in California do you constantly have people interfering and criminalizing otherwise law abiding citizens. To refer to someone as a sneakaboard who has paid and exorbitant amount for their vessel, plus insurance, and ridiculous slip fees, along with state and county property taxes is the most insulting and completely ridiculous accusation or attempt I have ever heard and to compare them to squatters is absolutely insane,” Thompson wrote to The Log.
“Perhaps the marinas, local and state governments should take a look at themselves and their services or lack of before making stupid claims and titles to people who have worked hard and deserve a fair opportunity to live the way they choose,” he continued.
What governments, harbors and marinas often do rely upon, however, is a confined set of laws limiting the rights of liveaboards (for better or worse).
David Weil, who authored The Log’s “Ask The Attorney” column series, regularly stated boat owners and renters had limited rights when it came to living aboard a recreational vessel.
“State and federal law assume that people who live aboard a boat do so as a matter of choice rather than necessity and, as such, liveaboards are not afforded the same protections as people who live in more traditional spaces,” Weil wrote in a 2011 column.
He echoed a similar position nearly four years later, in a column outlining his legal analysis of marina tenancies.
“The bottom line is that a marina tenant, even a liveaboard tenant, is not renting a home. He or she is simply renting a parking space for a home that they already own,” Weil wrote in his November 2015 column.
But what protections should be afforded to boat owners who choose to live aboard their vessels? Should slips continue to be treated as parking spaces for the purposes of limiting boaters’ rights? Is there a happy medium where some level of basic regulation could co-exist with lifestyle choices of boat owners? What are harbor and marina managers doing to address other issues raised by The Log’s readers?