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Boats in Oakland Estuary Crushed in Cleanup Operation

Dust, shards of fiberglass and broken dreams filled the air over the Oakland Estuary on Wednesday, as roughly 10 sailboats — most of them designated as abandoned, derelict and illegally anchored — were destroyed. Some vessels were seized by Oakland and Alameda Police Departments, who share jurisdiction of the Estuary, while a few vessels were voluntarily surrendered.

The cleanup — which is partially funded by a grant from the state of California — is part of a Bay Area-wide program to remove “marine debris,” or vessels that are considered unsafe, a danger to navigation, or hazards to marine life and the environment. Underlying the issue of seized boats are, in many cases, homelessness, drug abuse, and the increasing pressures of a housing crisis — not to mention an aging fleet of plastic classics.

The issues surrounding abandoned boats are deep-rooted and endlessly complicated. Regardless, it’s always sad to see a boat meet its end.
© 2019 Brock de Lappe

According to reporting from SFGate, Oakland and Alameda PD, “insist[ed] that owners were given months of warning that the boats would be removed,” as is standard practice when identifying marine debris for removal. Boats were seized from public and marina docks, as well as from anchorages in the Estuary.

Oakland Harbormaster Brock de Lappe said there are “no legal anchorages anywhere on the Estuary. If you’re anchored-out, you’re breaking the law. Some of those boats had been there for months.”

Video from KTVU showed several boats being crushed by a backhoe at the boat launch ramp and the adjacent parking lot at the Jack London Aquatic Center on the Oakland Embarcadero, a sight that sent shivers through some of our readers who commented on our Facebook Page.

A backhoe waits at the boat launch ramp at the Jack London Aquatic Center on the Oakland Embarcadero.
© 2019 Brock de Lappe

“I don’t like seeing boats crushed. There’s no joy in that for me,” said de Lappe, who was part of the Oakland Estuary Cleanup in 2013 when he was the harbormaster in Alameda. “I have a vested interest in seeing the Estuary be what it should be.”

Many of our readers wondered why the boats that were crushed — one of which was a totally-decent looking Santana 22 — couldn’t be sold or donated. “The paper trail to get a boat like that and pass it on to someone else is virtually impossible,” de Lappe said. “Who was the last legal registered owner of that boat, and how do you track that person down?” In addition, “There are a lot of boats from the ’60s and ’70 that are reaching the end of life, and the blue-collar generation from the ’60s and ’70s are also aging out,” de Lappe said. “And they’re not being replaced by the younger generation, because they don’t have the discretionary funds for boating.”

In the past, de Lappe said that Bay Area harbormasters would obtain abandoned vessels through lien sales, then resell them for a song to people willing to remove the boats from their marinas. But this well-intentioned practice led to the swelling of the Bay Area’s anchor-out population, especially in Richardson Bay, where liveaboards had, until recently, been tolerated.

A worker helps “detoxify” a boat — a process of removing the keel, batteries, and other materials — before it goes to the landfill.
© 2019 Brock de Lappe

We’ve spoken with a number of Bay Area harbormasters who say they get dozens of calls a day from people looking to live aboard a boat as an affordable housing alternative. For people with even fewer means living on the fringes, old boats have become a last resort, and in many cases, this population becomes a danger to themselves and others on the water. Union Point Park, located on the Oakland side of the Estuary, is currently locked in a legal battle over a homeless encampment there.

And there’s a darker side, still.

“A lot of time when we search these abandoned boats, we find remnants of narcotics [and] stolen property,” Oakland Police officer Kaleo Albino told KTVU. “We have found multiple boats in the past being used as what you would call a meth lab.”

De Lappe said that he wants the Estuary to be a true Gold Coast on the Oakland Embarcadero. “I don’t want to see it be a crime-ridden place — that’s not my idea of a safe Estuary. It’s a gorgeous spot.”

We will have more on the Oakland Estuary in the coming weeks.


  1. Timothy Cramer 5 years ago

    My full Keel Deep Blue Water sailboat that was built in the Netherlands had a brand new diesel engine in it with 200 hours on it had a brand new to pack battery Ray had a brand new battery charger 2 Bank charging system had a brand new sump pump bilge pump how to brand new propeller and had just paid for the new slip it was going into I was in distress when I landed there I got it all fixed and all working in the allotted amount of the time and I was told by Oakland PD where I was in a curd I was okay for the night sings how I was legal I was doing everything in my power to get it out of there and I was completely abiding by the law a half hour after Oakland PD said it was okay for me to stay where I was overnight Alameda PD came over cut my anchor lines board my vessel told my vessel would not answer me as I’m screaming at them from the shore to talk to Al Oakland PD I’m okay to be there lied to me about where they were taking it they said to Jack London Square they went to Jack London Aquatic Center very different places by the time I found them they had already destroyed my boat with everything I own in it thousands and thousands of dollars tools private personal everything a $1,600 TV the navigation system all of it every possible thing you can think of I probably had they literally did not speak to each other they just grab whatever boat is there and do whatever they want with them so don’t think that they are nice people

    512236 documented vessel current and legal

  2. Ryan Schofield 5 years ago

    makes me sick to see perfectly good boats destroyed. why cant some energy be put into finding them new homes?

  3. Concerned Citizen 5 years ago

    This quote is chilling: “Oakland Harbormaster Brock de Lappe said there are ‘no legal anchorages anywhere on the Estuary. If you’re anchored-out, you’re breaking the law. Some of those boats had been there for months.'”

    So it is illegal to anchor anywhere, at any time, for any reason? If your boat breaks down and you anchor to keep your boat from being blown ashore, it’s illegal. If you anchor to await a fair tide, it’s illegal. If you anchor to keep your boat located over a fishing hole, it’s illegal. If you anchor on an overnight or weekend cruise it’s illegal.

    And only “most” of the boats had been there for months, which means some of them were there for shorter periods of time. According to the quote from the harbormaster, anchoring at any time for any reason gives the police permission to crush your boat without due process. This is truly frightening.

  4. Dan 5 years ago

    Long Beach regularly has an auction of delinquent boats, which is well attended and effective and they do not have a title issue. Perhaps Oakland and Alameda Harbor Police should reach out to Long Beach and find out how to recycle these boats instead of adding to the landfill. They can call Vilma Hernandez at 562-570-3215 or email her at [email protected]

  5. Brock de Lappe 5 years ago

    The boats that were impounded and crushed had all been posted with a 30-day notice from the Oakland Police Department which was amply warning for many boats which left the estuary on their own accord. Timothy Cramer’s boat had been properly and conspicuously posted. What Mr. Cramer fails to disclose is that not one, but twice last winter his boat broke free from it mooring and drifted untended on the estuary putting other vessels in danger. The second time, on January 5, 2019, it drifted onshore on Coast Guard Island. The Coast Guard towed the vessel to the closest “safe harbor”, an open private dock along the Embarcadero which the Port of Oakland leases to a defense contractor. The vessel remained in this secure, fenced in boatyard until mid-April when it was finally removed and returned to anchor west of the bridge to Coast Guard Island from where it was finally impounded. The Oakland and Alameda Marine Patrol units deserve high praise for their effort to keep the Oakland Estuary a crime-free zone that can be enjoyed by a multitude of boaters.

  6. Stewart Port 5 years ago

    As near as I can tell, Brock De Lappe is a private citizen in the employ of Almar Marinas. “Oakland Harbormaster” is a bit misleading. If I’ve got this wrong, please clarify. I can’t find the name in any City of Oakland government directory.
    As far as I know, it is legal to anchor a registered and legally compliant boat anywhere, except where it’s not (cable areas, shipping lanes, ecological reserves, etc.) Again, please cite chapter and verse if you know otherwise.
    I’m at an adjacent marina, and the anchor outs have been a mixed bag as neighbors.– many competent and responsible, some not so much. With all the development going on in the Estuary, it’s hard not to see this as part of the big squeeze on those of us who don’t fit the plans for “New Oakland”.

  7. Brock de Lappe 5 years ago

    For those demanding “chapter & verse” regarding anchoring in the Oakland Estuary, please see the following:

    LT Athena Stricker stated in an email for me:

    “There are no designated federal anchorages in the Oakland-Alameda Estuary.”

    LT Athena Stricker
    Port Safety and Security
    Sector San Francisco
    United States Coast Guard
    (415) 399-2034

    I was also referred to:

    Electronic Code of Federal Regulations
    e-CFR data is current as of May 14, 2019

    Title 33: Navigation and Navigable Waters
    Subpart B—Anchorage Grounds

    §110.224 San Francisco Bay, San Pablo Bay, Carquinez Strait, Suisun Bay, Sacramento River, San Joaquin River, and connecting waters, CA.
    (a) General regulations. (1) Within the navigable waters of San Francisco Bay, San Pablo Bay, Carquinez Strait, Suisun Bay, New York Slough, San Joaquin River Deep Water Channel, the Stockton Turning Basin, the Sacramento River Deep Water Ship Channel between Suisun Bay and the east end of the West Sacramento Turning Basin, and connecting waters, anchoring is prohibited outside of designated anchorages except when required for safety or with the written permission of the Captain of the Port. Each vessel anchoring outside an established anchorage area shall immediately notify the Captain of the Port of her position and reason for anchoring.

    Seems pretty clear to me.

    And yes, I am a private citizen. And I am a harbor master/marina manager.

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