Yes, you read that headline correctly. (No, this is not satire or an April Fool’s joke.)
After proposing a 250% increase in boat-registration fees two years ago, the State of California has upped the ante, suggesting instead a 300% increase in fees. This calculates into the current $20 biannual fee’s rising to $80 every two years to register a boat. (Fees have not been raised in 18 years.)
At a time of nagging inflation, arbitrarily increasing property-tax assessments on boats, decreasing numbers of marinas and boatyards, and well-intentioned but onerous environmental regulations, the proposed 300% fee hike is yet another example of California sailors “being made to pay more for less,” according to boating advocates.
Warning of declining numbers of registered boats in California, the Recreational Boaters of California (RBOC) is urging boaters to contact their state senators and assembly members and request that their representatives reject Governor Newsom’s proposed registration-fee increase. The RBOC said they’re “frustrated and concerned” that governor Gavin Newsom’s budget revision, submitted on May 15, was “rushed through with minimal notification to the boating community who had engaged in good faith to discuss fees over the past two years,” a press release read.
The RBOC also said that the state is effectively “ignoring” the $107 million-per-year contribution boaters pay in the state fuel tax. The RBOC called for the state to dedicate “a minimum of $20 million annually in fuel tax dollars, directly attributable to boaters, to the HWRF,” referring to the Harbors and Watercraft Revolving Fund.
When the State of California proposed a 250% hike in fees in 2021, the increase was designed to shore up the HWRF, which finances boating infrastructure such as launch ramps, boater education, the boater certification card, aquatic centers, local boating law enforcement, and invasive species prevention and control. The HWRF was facing a $52 million annual deficit, according to The Log, because the Department of Parks and Recreation, which recently absorbed the Department of Boating and Waterways (DBW), was dipping into the fund. (It was estimated that the 250% fee increase would have put another $22 million into the HWRF each year.)
In other words, boaters paying into the HWRF are now financing many non-boating-related expenditures, such as beach restoration — a worthy cause, but one not directly tied to boating interests and fees.
The RBOC said that the proposed increase does not address the “inappropriate uses” of registration fees, such as the DMV cost of administering and collecting the fees, “as well as the depletion of the fund by re-direction of significant vessel registration fees to [the California Air Resources Board.]” The RBOC also called for transferring boat registration functions from DMV to DBW in an effort to increase efficiency, and warned that registration fees can be increased again without legislation.
The net effect of increasing fees by 300%, the RBOC argued, “will create a financial barrier to healthy on-the-water opportunities for the average California boatowner, whose boat is under 25-ft in length, and even more so for individuals in disadvantaged communities or on fixed incomes. The average boat owner in California has an income of less than $70,000 per year, among those who are least able to afford the significant 300% increases in their registration fees. It will essentially make boating an activity that the average Californian family cannot afford.”
The number of registered boats in California has been decreasing, according to the RBOC, citing a number of familiar culprits. “A few years ago, California ranked third in the number of registered boats by state; today the state is fifth. Local assessors have been drastically increasing the assessed value of vessels for local property tax purposes, regardless of their age. New marina developments are reducing the number of slips available for small boats. [And] boaters are being required to spend more money on less effective hull paints.”