New York’s Abandoned Boats and the Man Who Removes Them

Where do these boats come from?

If you see a half-sunk boat, once you start digging, you can bet there’s more. But there are also many abandoned ships in private marinas. Most of the boats are in Jamaica Bay, Coney Island and Staten Island, Arthur Kill and Kill Van Kull which are infamous boat dumps.

Besides natural disasters, why do people abandon their ships and can something be done about it?

Many of them came here from Long Island. But unlike a car, where some people need it for sustenance, boats are for fun, but they are expensive to maintain. So when people get to the point where they don’t have the time to use the boat anymore, or they don’t have the money to maintain it, they just aren’t being taken care of. One way to curb abandonment is to require boats to be insured. For 10 years, owners wishing to use the city’s marinas and boat docks have been required to carry insurance for their vessels. This way, if the boat is damaged, the owner has a company to call and claim the boat. I think it’s a good practice. Otherwise, people look away because it is expensive to remove a boat.

Does the Parks Department have a budget for marine debris removal?

No, I have to find grants from municipal, state and federal agencies. Sometimes members of the city council allocate funds. Last year, then-Queens City Councilman Eric Ulrich got $65,000. So in December, a salvage company rescued five boats from Jamaica Bay, including a giant stranded since Hurricane Sandy. Some years we fish 100 boats, some years none.

How to choose the boats to be cleaned?

I have my own list of abandoned boats I’d like to go to, but I’m getting a lot of feedback from the community. Often, a civic association will contact its advisor. The derelict vessel may cause a hazard to navigation or the public, prompting a call to me. Over the years, I have worked closely with Jamaica Bay Eco-Observers and the American Coastal Society to decide which boats to fish.

Earnest A. Martinez