Abandoned Dreams

According to the City of Vancouver, "when an owner is not known or does not come forward, the City must pay the recovery and disposal costs.” This boat has been sitting on the rocks at Sunset Beach in Vancouver since November 19. Photo by Tyrone Stelzenmuller.

Disposing of Derelict Boats

Derelict boats on the B.C. coast are a hot-button issue for local boaters and community members alike. Here are some practical alternatives to leaving a boat to rot on its moorings.

You don’t have to go very far back into the Pacific Yachting archives to find a story or a letter on these barely floating eyesores, and a google search on “derelict boats” will lead you to an extensive list of articles from numerous sources written on the inefficiencies of the current systems designed to deal with them. Given all the layers of government that are involved it’s easy enough to understand why the problem persists. Passing the buck seems to be the status quo.

Nor do you have to go very far on the B.C. Coast before you find a derelict or abandoned boat on the verge of sinking, or perhaps worse, breaking free from its moorings and becoming a hazard to other boaters. Recently we’ve heard from readers concerned with the number of derelicts at Campbell River, Lasqueti Island, Silva Bay, Genoa Bay and Bowen Island, but the problem is everywhere.

While we wait for the authorities to take the initiative, it is possible for the average boater to help by ensuring that we don’t add to Transport Canada’s list of derelict boats on the B.C. Coast. Instead of the usual discussion on the problems with government bureaucracy here are some real solutions for disposing of derelict boats.

We’ve tried to be as comprehensive as possible with this list, but if there are other options please feel free to send a letter to the editor. This is meant to give you an idea of the alternatives that are out there, and a little research should guide you to the one that is right for you.

From beginning to end, the crushing of this once proud sailboat took only 20 minutes. Photo by Sam Burkhart.

From beginning to end, the crushing of this once proud sailboat took only 20 minutes. Photo by Sam Burkhart.

Option 1: Recycling

Shelter Island Marina will accept almost any boat of any size. “If we can lift it, we can take it,” says Josh Simmons, sales manager at Shelter Island. Their largest travelift is capable of hauling boats up to 150 feet and 220 tons—more than adequate for all but the most mega of mega-yachts. To date the largest boat they have dismantled was a 95-footer.

“This boat had so much hydraulics that needed to be drained,” says Nash Tatla, who is in charge of disposal operations, “it took two months just to prepare the boat for demolition.” It also had 20,000 litres of diesel onboard. In this case, Shelter Island sold the fuel to a company to be used for heating, a much better end result than having that fuel leak into the marine environment.

Everything hazardous is taken out of the boat including fuel tanks, toxic substances such as gasoline, diesel, heavier fuels and lubricating oils, battery acids and paints containing lead and copper, even sewage. Onsite they have two 4,000-litre tanks for collecting wastewater used during the preparation process. This water is treated and stored and can be reused for jobs such as pressure washing.

Boat crushing at Shelter Island occurs only a few times a year, but because of the size of their yard, boats are accepted all year round and they will store them for free for any length of time once the crushing fee is received.

Photo by Sam Burkhart.

Photo by Sam Burkhart.

Price can vary greatly, but a 26-foot fibreglass boat might cost somewhere around $1,200. This cost depends on a number of factors including the amount of hazardous materials onboard and the deconstruction required beforehand, such as dismantling of the mast and rigging. They also take into account any valuables left aboard such as copper pipes, an engine or lead keel. Any items that can be sold could lower the crushing cost.

At the time of writing, the Municipality of Bowen Island was in the process of sending a number of derelict boats from Mannion Bay to Shelter Island for crushing. With 50 percent of the funding coming from the federal government, Bowen Island has found an affordable and effective solution to the derelicts there.

“It’s definitely a collaborative approach to the whole problem,” says Bonny Brokenshire, senior bylaw services officer for the Municipality of Bowen Island. This is the type of cooperation that will need to happen on a much larger scale for this problem to be overcome. But it’s encouraging at least.

Contact Richmond’s Shelter Island Marina at 604-270-6272.


An outfit in North Vancouver is running a similar operation to what Shelter Island is doing. Recognizing a need for boat disposal in the lower mainland, Jack Campbell Marine will accept boats of any size and any material. First, an inspection is done to assess the difficulty of disposal. A quote is given to the boat owner and if accepted then the boat is taken to their North Van yard where it is cleaned up, stripped down and cut into manageable pieces. Everything that can be salvaged is salvaged. Items of value are sold with half of the profit going to the boat owner. Metal is taken to a scrap yard; fibreglass is either recycled or taken to a transfer station. “Everything is disposed of properly,” says George Caman. Contact them at www.recyclemyboat.com or 604-988-4411.

The Curious Case of Fibreglass

Early fiberglass boats, at least the ones that have been neglected, are beginning to reach the end of their projected lifespans and it is still unclear how best to deal with this material which, when first developed, was seen as a miracle product. What is clear is that it doesn’t disintegrate in the same way that wood or even steel will. Nor does it have the same recycle value as steel.

Some keen entrepreneurs have found a secondary use for recycled marine fibreglass as insulation or as an additive in concrete (see “Marine Recyclers,” June 2010). Another problem is that over the last few years, economic concerns have led to many boat owners feeling the pinch and abandoning their boats as a last ditch effort to shed the cost of moorage and upkeep. With so many fibreglass boats out there with seemingly infinite life spans, the resale value of a 20-foot fibreglass runabout just doesn’t outweigh the costs associated with disposing of it.

Option 2: The Dump

This isn’t the best option available, but it is better than abandonment. Wastech in North Vancouver will accept boats under 17 feet in length. Motors, electrical components and fluids must all be removed beforehand and a $50 surcharge is applied to all waste over 2.5 metres (eight feet) in length.

Similarly, the Coquitlam Transfer Station will take fibreglass boats as long as they are 12 feet or smaller.

Taking a boat to the dump is still a relatively easy option, but it isn’t cheap. It has been estimated that the cost of disposing of a 40-foot sailboat at a landfill is somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000. Be sure to call ahead before showing up at the dump with your old 26-foot trawler on a trailer.

Photo by Sam Burkhart.

Photo by Sam Burkhart.

Option 3: Donate

Boat donation is not only a good option from a moral point of view, but it might also be the best option for your wallet. The Disabled Sailing Association, SALTS and the Cowichan Bay Wooden Boat Society all accept boats under similar conditions. The downside of this option is that not just any boat will make the cut.

“Over the years we have found we have to set limits,” says Stephen Hunter of the Sam Sullivan Disability Foundation. The boat must be fully operational and have a current market value of $10,000 or more.

“The reason for the $10,000 minimum is on average the boats take over six months to sell and at the extreme over two years. During this time there are moorage and insurance costs plus cleaning costs to absorb and finally, upon completion of the sale there is a brokerage fee.” The Disabled Sailing Association has received boats worth up to $250,000.

SALTS has a similar policy with the main difference being that they sell most of the donated boats themselves so there’s no brokerage fee.

Finally, the Cowichan Bay Wooden Boat Society differs in that they only accept boats made from wood or wood composite.

All three of these options require a yacht survey, the cost of which is borne by the association or society.

“It is a situation where we end up helping each other out. We get a boat to sell; they get a tax receipt and a release from all the obligations of owning a boat,” says Hunter. This option is best for those owners whose boats aren’t yet in a derelict state, but want to prevent that from becoming the case.

Disabled Sailing Association of B.C.


Cowichan Bay Wooden Boat Society




Option 4: Sell it

Perhaps this could have been Option 1, but we’re talking about boats that are nearing the end of their lives. You never know, it might be worth it to list your boat on the usual online classifieds such as kijiji and craigslist, on one of the various online boat listings, or in the Pacific Yachting Classifieds.

There might be some diehard out there who is looking for a do-it-yourself rebuild project or someone who wants an old wooden boat hull to plant tomatoes in, but there is always a chance the boat will end up in the hands of someone who will abandon it themselves—another case of passing the buck.

Every time a storm rolls through Vancouver, and nearly every derelict-occupied bay on the coast, a scene like this will show up on shore. Photo by Sam Burkhart.

Every time a storm rolls through Vancouver, and nearly every derelict-occupied bay on the coast, a scene like this will show up on shore. Photo by Sam Burkhart.

The Bigger Picture

The good news is that progress is being made and it is only a matter of time before a viable, cross-jurisdictional solution is found. In the meantime there are a number of positives to look toward.

The success in Mannion Bay on Bowen Island is one example. The recent proposal put forward by Port Metro Vancouver and the City of Port Moody (see “CURRENTS,” Jan 2014) should help reduce the number of derelict vessels in Port Moody, which has risen to almost 40 according to Mayor Mike Clay.

Transport Canada has not turned a blind eye, developing a list of possible solutions including mandatory insurance requirements, annual licensing of pleasure craft and prohibiting the sale of commercial vessels that are no longer economically viable, but these are still just ideas.

“While Transport Canada’s report is a welcome step forward, it is not effective without action,” says Jean Crowder, Member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Cowichan in a letter to Dennis Lebel, the Minister of Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities.

Crowder has also put forward a Private Member’s Bill (Bill C-231), which essentially “obligates the government to act when derelict vessels are abandoned.” The bill was put forward in the summer of 2011 and has currently gotten as far as a first reading. You can help move the process along by writing to current Minister of Transport, Lisa Raitt at lisa.raitt@parl.gc.ca.

Local groups such as the Thetis Island Marine Association and Islands Trust have also seen some success.

At a conference at UBC, Shelia Malcolmson, Chair of Islands Trust along with the Union of B.C. Municipalities developed Resolution #B30 which asks senior governments to start working toward a solution. Malcolmson reiterated the urgency in September of 2013 saying in a presentation at UBC, “we need a unified senior government solution to cover the coast completely.”

And of course there is the example being set just to the south of us in Washington where a proactive approach seems to be yielding positive results (see “CURRENTS” June, 2013.)


Wreck: A wreck can be a ship or boat of any description, an aircraft, or part of a ship, boat or airplane that has suffered a wreck; It can be any part of a ship, boat or airplane that floats, sinks to the bottom or lands ashore; It can be cargo or personal belongings of the crew or those of shipwrecked persons, includes jetsam, flotsam and lagan. An exciting idea when read about in a Daniel Defoe novel, less romantic wrecks can be found all over our coast and are the bane of many pleasure boaters.

Derelict Vessel: A vessel that has been abandoned and deserted at sea by those who were in charge of it without hope of their recovering it and without intention of returning to it. Implies abandonment was a result of a catastrophic event. A vessel is deemed derelict on the day that is two years from the day of the casualty. In most of the cases that we see on our coast, desertion is the result of something less than catastrophic. Intentions may have been good to begin with, but the result is the same.

Abandon: To leave and never return to (something). Or to cease maintaining, practicing, or using. Something that should never be done to a boat.