You can’t maintain your boat? Now you can turn it over to Florida’s wildlife police

Is your boat marooned from a recent storm? Stuck in a canal? Listing or sunk?

Now you can hand over the keys to the state and walk away.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission began a program this week allowing people to surrender their boats to the state if they can no longer maintain them.

The program comes as the Gulf Coast and the Florida Keys are still cleaning up displaced boats after Hurricane Ian made landfall in late September. More than 100 boats were displaced in the Keys in the storm’s wake, and thousands on the southwest coast, according to the FWC. Of those, more than 500 are considered derelict.

The agency announced this week that it is accepting applications from vessel owners for its Volunteer Turn-In Program, which it says is a “key component of Florida’s derelict vessel prevention program.”

The state agency gave boat owners 45 days after the storm to either salvage or dispose of their damaged or displaced boats or arrange to give up ownership of their vessels. The deadline — Nov. 15 — was extended until the end of December because of the volume of boats requiring attention after Ian.

A sailboat lists to its side in Matanzas Harbor in Fort Myers Beach in front of a mass of wrecked shrimping boats Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022. The damage was caused by Hurricane Ian, with hit the area as a Category 4 storm Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022.

“The number of impacted vessels is significant and many residents are still assessing damages,” the law enforcement agency said in a statement.

The point of the VTIP program is so owners can arrange to have their boats disposed of by the state before they become derelict. Ignoring a derelict boat can lead to criminal charges and even jail time, according to the FWC.

“Acting now is the best way to prevent legal action from occurring if the vessel becomes derelict,” said Phil Horning, VTIP administrator.

Once the VTIP application is approved, the agency will take possession of the boat and dispose of it at no cost to the owner.

“Removing the vessel before it deteriorates into a derelict condition will prevent legal ramifications for the vessel owner and will protect Florida’s valuable seagrass resources, marine life, and human life, safety and property,” the FWC said.

Fisherman Ernesto Hernandez navigates around his sunken boat off Sugarloaf Key Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022. His vessel sank in Hurricane Ian, which passed by the Florida Keys on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, before hitting the Southwest coast the next day as a Category 4 storm.

How to qualify

For a vessel to qualify for the program, it must be floating in state waters and cannot already have been determined to be derelict. The owner must have at least one written at-risk warning or citation and possess a clear title to the vessel, according to the agency.

A sailboat sits in the mangroves on Sugarloaf Key Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022. It is one of more than 100 boats that were displaced when Hurricane Ian went by the Florida Keys Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022.

How to apply

To apply for or view program guidelines, visit or call the FWC Boating and Waterways Division at 850-488-5600 for more information.