Legislation filed to protect boaters from salvage ‘piracy’

TALLAHASSEE — Eric Hull says he was billed last year by a boat salvage and towing company $30,000 for a 10-minute job of pumping water from his boat.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Hull said. “I was appalled this would happen. I thought, ‘This is not right.'”

Hull told his story on Tuesday during a news conference in the Capitol to announce legislation intended to protect boaters from paying exorbitant fees for salvage and towing.

S.B. 664 and H.B. 469 would require marine salvage and towing companies to provide a written cost estimate if requested by customers before providing salvage work costing more than $500. The final bill may not exceed the estimate by more than 20 percent.

State Sen. Dana Young (R-Tampa), a sponsor of the Senate bill, compared the legislation to a state requirement that car owners be provided a written estimate upon request for repairs.

“It was horrifying when I learned of this form of modern-day piracy that is being perpetuated on boaters in this state,” Young said.

Boating plays an important role in Florida tourism. Florida has the most boats of any state, with 914,535, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

Boating industry representatives were not present at the news conference. And representatives of the National Marine Manufacturers Association did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

Bonnie Basham, a lobbyist in Tallahassee for BoatUS, said she was working with the group to develop a position on the legislation.

“The whole concept of salvage is extremely complex and already is covered in maritime law,” she said. BoatUS provides insurance for boaters, operates a towing fleet and advocates for boaters on legislation.

Asked where boating industry stands on the legislation, Young said she expects to find out soon with the bills having been filed less than two weeks ago.

“They should be supporting this because we are supporting their customers with this legislation,” Young said.

The requirements of the legislation would apply only in Florida waters, which extend 3.5 miles into the Atlantic Ocean and 10.4 miles into the Gulf of Mexico.

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