Derelict Vessels Act has boat owners scrambling to register boats with DMV

A law that went into effect on January 1 of this year has had boat owners across the state scrambling to get their vessels registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles. SB92, also known as the Derelict Vessels Act, requires all boats, barges, sport fishing guide boats, and tenders over 24 feet in length to be registered with the Alaska DMV, unless specifically exempted. This includes boats registered with the Coast Guard, as well as those registered with the Commercial Fishing Entry Commission.

Fishing boats moored in Kodiak. ( Photo by James Brooks/Flickr)

Undocumented vessels, meaning those that aren’t registered with the Coast Guard, were already required to be registered with the State of Alaska. SB 92 adds that registration requirement for documented vessels as well. On top of that, undocumented vessels are also now required to be titled through the DMV.

Registration costs $24 for both documented and undocumented vessels, and stays valid for three years.

Kodiak Harbor Master Derrik Magnuson says having a clear paper trail of titles and registrations filed with the state of Alaska will help to keep boat-owners accountable for their vessels. “One of the big problems we’ve always discussed was a boat shows up on the beach on city property somewhere, whether it’s Kodiak or Juneau or Ketchikan. And it’s almost next to impossible to find out who the current owner is.”

SB92 was proposed as a way to address the growing number of derelict vessels in Alaska’s harbors. State Senator Peter Micchiche of Soldotna, who sponsored the bill, says that harbormasters from all over the state came to him in support of the bill. But even though it’s technically been in place since the beginning of this year, it’s run into speed bumps in the implementation.

“I think the bill is important, I think it’s good legislation,” says Micchiche. “But I think the roll-out has been, less than stellar, let’s put it that way.”

In large part, he says, that’s because the outreach and awareness efforts to tell vessel owners about the changes weren’t sufficient.

The roll-out has also received criticism from groups like United Fishermen of Alaska, who sent a letter last month to the Dunleavy administration asking that implementation of the law be delayed. UFA argued that the state’s boat-owners weren’t given enough time to comply, nor were they even really made aware of the new law after it had gone into effect. The letter also cited DMV offices being closed in places, and offices running out of the right forms or sticker decals adding to the confusion.

Marla Thompson, director of the DMV for the state, says that they had to create new processes to accomodate the regulations, and that the bulk of the challenge comes with educating the public. “I think we might have struggled a little bit in the first few days of when we were getting more people coming in, that we weren’t maybe expecting,” Thompson said over the phone. “It’s just a new process and we had provided training for everyone before the season, because we had to change the way our system worked to do the titling.”

The Dunleavy administration declined UFA’s request to delay roll-out until June 2020, but in an emailed response to the organization on Wednesday, Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka said law enforcement officers would exercise discretion with vessel owners out of compliance in the near-term, generally issuing warnings instead of a more serious penalty.

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