Federal funding boosts volunteer efforts to remove thousands of abandoned boats in B.C.

The pandemic has spurred a wave of boat sales along with concerns about an increasing number of abandoned vessels washing up on B.C. shorelines.

Now, the federal government is contributing $1.7 million to remove the boats and hold owners responsible in an effort to prevent the wrecks from wreaking havoc on the environment.

John Roe is the director of the Dead Boats Disposal Society, a non-profit volunteer cleanup crew in Victoria. He says there are thousands of abandoned boats along B.C.’s coastline — everything from little dinghies to old fishing boats and 70-foot vessels.

“We’ve been trying for a number of years to deal with it,” he said.

“When we find them they’re usually in pretty poor shape. They’ve been sunk for a while or abandoned on a beach, full of garbage, stripped of anything of value and they’re just left there.”

Roe says part of the problem is that boat ownership and maintenance has become expensive. As the population has increased, so has the cost of real estate and moorage. More people are interested in boat ownership but fewer marinas are being built, he said.

VPD Marine Unit officers investigate the scene of a sunken boat in False Creek near the Cambie Bridge in Vancouver in December. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

‘These vessels can really have significant impacts’

Ryan Greville, manager of the Navigation Protection Program at Transport Canada, says most abandoned boats are found on the South Coast but they can be found everywhere, including lakes in B.C.’s Interior.

“These vessels can really have significant impacts,” Greville said.

“An abandoned vessel can have all kinds of issues, whether it’s environmental, to the different materials on a boat. As it breaks down, it can cause harm to the environment. It can have an impact to public safety.”

The Dead Boats Disposal Society works with Transport Canada to find abandoned boats and remove them, but cleanup costs can be as high a $75,000.

The federal government recently pledged $1.7 million under its Abandoned Boats Program to help communities remove dozens more boats from waters and shorelines in B.C., Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The new legislation under the Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act empowers the government to take more proactive measures on abandoned vessels, Greville said, and holds owners accountable.

“It is now prohibited for someone to just abandon a boat,” he said.

“If we track them down there can be penalties, and if that vessel is posing a hazard, action can be taken to mitigate that hazard.”

Roe said it’s a positive move but he’d like to see further steps taken to address the problem.

“I would like to see a B.C. managed program very similar to tires and batteries. You gotta treat this as a waste management issue,” he said.

“They’re garbage by the time we get them.”