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That Sinking Feeling in the Oakland Estuary

Oakland Marinas harbormaster, Brock de Lappe, has been working for years to protect the Oakland Estuary from illegal anchor-outs and environmental degradation caused by sinking and abandoned vessels. We’ve written about the results of his efforts and the broader estuary challenges in the past, but it remains a recurring problem. Brock sent in a couple of recent photos of a new crop of anchor-outs, including one sinking right near the bridge to Coast Guard Island and the recently destroyed Cryer Boatyard.

Illegal anchor outs
Another boat sinks within sight of Coast Guard Island.
© 2021 Brock de Lappe

Clearly, the Bay Area has a housing crisis. Just as clearly to most people, solving homelessness with illegal anchorages filling up with aging and poorly maintained vessels is not the solution. As with homelessness throughout the Bay Area, the agencies and people responsible for clearing up the problems seem overwhelmed and ill-equipped to solve them. Currently, clearing out abandoned vessels and illegal anchor-outs is a wash, rinse, repeat cleaning cycle.

Illegal anchor outs
More boats illegally anchored off Coast Guard Island.
© 2021 Brock de Lappe

Deep in the Oakland Estuary, Coast Guard Island provides weather protection for the anchored-out boats. Yet this is not primarily the Coast Guard’s problem. However, their description of their mission reads as follows: “The Coast Guard is the principal Federal agency responsible for maritime safety, security, and environmental stewardship in U.S. ports and waterways.” You could see sinking boats and illegal anchorages as a threat to both the environment and maritime safety, but hard to solve in the murky boundaries between agencies. However, it is the Oakland and Alameda police who are charged with protecting and managing these problems on the Estuary.

America's Cup Harbor San Diego
San Diego is home to some well-managed mooring fields, which allow some liveaboard residents.
© 2021 Google Maps

Other California harbors, such as San Diego, pictured above, have well-managed mooring fields that create the opportunity for some to live ‘on the hook’ and additional less expensive mooring options. As Brock notes, “There is no legal anchorage anywhere in the Oakland Estuary. The boats can become a hazard to navigation, and just allowing boats like this to anchor, sink, pollute, and generally intrude on public waterways creates a dangerous situation for all.” Mooring fields can be a great solution for both long-term and short-term recreational usage. They could provide revenue for cities to help clean up the boats falling into disrepair and sinking in the Bay.

In the meantime, Brock and a community of businesses along the Oakland Estuary have been working closely with the local police to solve the problems, including contributing office space for a new, local Oakland police substation. These businesses have chipped in to help clean up the Oakland coastline and waterways by helping support the Oakland Police Department: Brooklyn Basin, Motel 6, Conley Family LP, Homewood Suites, Executive Inn, Cook Natural Products, Oakland Marinas, Bay Yachts, Miller Milling, and Hager Pacific Properties.

Oakland Estuary Police Substation
Having a base of operations along the Estuary helps these officers be rested, ready, and nearby to help the local population.
© 2021 Brock de Lappe

The Bay Area’s homeless situation is way beyond local harbormasters and law enforcement’s scope and abilities. Still, homelessness needs to be solved somehow, while also keeping the Bay and Estuary’s magnificent coastline and waterways clear for all boaters to enjoy.

3 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Mike 3 months ago

    This is a Bay specific problem. I see other areas are making a go of it, like San Diego. Richardson’s Bay near Sausalito also comes to mind as a source of both perhaps good news and also concern. I say this because it seems to me that one should be able to provide mooring fields for responsible boat owners and penalize lack of responsibility. I don’t think it should be a Coast Guard problem, but counties demanding property taxes from boat owners and providing services should also have a licensing mandate for reasonable mooring activities. A sinking boat may be a bad time to fine someone, it can happen to the best of maintainers, and proving responsible maintenance may be hard to police. IMO, there should not be a need for police unless there is a problem that dictates men with guns are required. A beautiful boat can sink and an ugly boat may not indicate lack of maintenance of critical systems. My fundamental concern with the sf Bay Area is the lack of mooring facilities.

  2. Avatar
    Murphy Sackett 3 months ago

    San Diego isn’t all roses. We have quite a few floating shopping carts. My boats are at the Kona Kai and Monday the free anchorage in La Playa must vacate. Old power boat with a outboard strapped to the stern have seen it for years. They were towing a nice 18 foot dinghy with new Yamaha. I jokingly said “ Wow you stole a nice dinghy”. With out even a pause “Ya we got it in Mission Bay!”

  3. Avatar
    Jack 3 months ago

    How can anyone think for a second the Bay or estuary in California is the only waterway with a homeless problem?

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