Recreational boat owners face a new nationwide user fee of up to $100 that takes effect Sunday, and many of them are not happy about it.
The fees, ranging from $25 to $100 depending on boat size, are intended by Congress to help fund search and rescue programs, boating safety and aids to navigation. Boat owners are required to display a decal showing they have paid the fee or face fines of up to $5,000, the U.S. Coast Guard said Friday. A monthlong grace period is being allowed.
Ralph Davidson, president of the Dana Point Harbor Assn., said the fee “doesn’t sound like much. But when you add up all the fee increases that we’ve been charged, it’s cost me triple what it cost five years ago to own a boat.”
Even complying with the law requiring the fee is confusing and complicated, he said.
A boat owner must call a national toll-free number to request a form to register a watercraft. Davidson said only a single telephone number has been set up to serve the entire country, making it hard to get through.
The Coast Guard, which is intended to benefit from the new fees, has the task of administering and enforcing the program, Coast Guard spokesman Andre Billeaudeaux said.
Some members of the public have lodged complaints.
“They say they were unaware of the fee,” Billeaudeaux said. They have also questioned why the money is going into the U.S. Treasury’s general fund instead of directly to the Coast Guard, he added.
“If it was for the Coast Guard, they say, they would be happy to pay. But a lot of people are figuring this is just a tax,” Billeaudeaux said.
John Sipple, president of the Newport Harbor Boat Owners Assn., said boaters are annoyed that revenues from the boat fee are going into the general fund, “not back into the ocean, which basically makes this a special-interest tax.”
If the fee money were used to fund ocean-related projects, “most of the people who own boats wouldn’t care if they got charged extra,” he said. “Boat owners are tired of getting kicked around.”
During September, fines will be waived if boat owners obtain proof they have purchased one of the square, 3-inch decals marked with an A, B or C, depending on the fee.
The decals generally are required in territorial waters up to 3 miles offshore and in lakes with passage to the sea, Billeaudeaux said.
Among the boats exempt from the new fee are those propelled by oars, paddles or poles, unpowered barges or houseboats, and boats owned by groups such as the YMCA or Scout groups.