Any private American boat, sail or power, longer than 16 feet on which the owner hasn't paid the new annual recreational vessel fee of $25 to $100 has been illegal since July 31.
That includes virtually all of the 800,000 boats in California, judging by the absence of decals proving compliance. Nationwide, there are about 4.1 million boats subject to the fee, but according to the lobby group, Boat/U.S., only 5% have paid.
One of the latter, it should be reported, is President Bush's fishing boat. A photo of him boating with Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney shows the federal decal displayed next to the ID numbers. That's good, because after Sunday, the Coast Guard plans to start issuing citations, subject to a fine of up to $5,000, and what Coast Guarder would want to bust the President?
A grace period will let violators off the hook if they buy a decal by Oct. 1.
It doesn't seem to worry many boaters.
Boaters in California are tired of being gouged by marinas for slip fees, paying county property taxes for the slips they merely lease, paying personal property taxes on their boats, and paying 10% federal sales surtaxes after the first $100,000 for a new boat.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday August 31, 1991 Home Edition Sports Part C Page 10 Column 4 Sports Desk 4 inches; 119 words Type of Material: Correction
Recreational vessel fee: Clarifying a report in Friday's editions, owners of private boats longer than 16 feet are required to pay annual federal fees from $25 to $100 if they use coastal waters, inland tidal waters or non-tidal waters with access to the sea. The law also applies to Lake Tahoe and the Colorado River between Parker Dam and Davis Dam, including Lake Havasu and the Parker Strip.
Owners of boats using only land-locked inland lakes, such as Big Bear, Castaic or Pyramid, are not required to pay the fee.
The Coast Guard has indicated it will start issuing citations on Sunday, Sept. 1, but Coast Guard spokeswoman Brenda Toledo in Long Beach said patrols would not actively search out boats not displaying the decals proving compliance. Any boat owner cited through Sept. 30 will have 30 days to pay the fee and avoid a fine (maximum $5,000).
The new law was presented as a "user fee" but is nothing more than one more tax, because none of the projected $718 million in revenue over the five-year term will go to the U.S. Coast Guard, which has been assigned to collect it.
Led by Boat/U.S. and other organizations, boaters have protested the law so vigorously that Congress is listening. Well, not all of Congress.
Despite the uproar, Jim Clark, vice commodore of the Southern California Yachting Assn., notes: "Neither of California's two senators, John Seymour and Alan Cranston, has agreed to help out at all. That's very disappointing."
But the House passed a non-binding resolution to repeal the law, 412-6, and the House Ways and Means Committee voted, 19-17, to amend the law to exempt boats under 27 feet, although the amendment was tied to a gas tax bill and may die with it. The Senate Commerce Committee also has voted to recommend repeal.
But there has been no binding action for repeal, so the law is still in force in its original form. Boats 16-20 feet must pay $25 a year, 20-27 feet $35 a year, 27-40 feet $50 a year and 40-plus feet $100 a year.
In case Congress fails to act in time, Boat/U.S. also has filed suit on statutory and Constitutional grounds. Boaters in Florida were said to be planning Boston Tea Party-type demonstrations.
If anyone wants to pay the fee now, he can do so by calling a special number, (800) 848-2100, and charging it to Visa or Master Card. Allow two weeks for delivery. By Oct. 1, it might be difficult getting through.
Boat/U.S. spokesman Dave Pilvelait said: "What we have been advising people is to call the 800 number and request a form to have ready to mail in for the decal. Essentially, we have until Oct. 1, but we don't know if anything is going to happen before then."
AMERICA'S CUP--Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes syndicate set this Sunday as the deadline for getting enough money to build an upgraded second boat for next year's defense. That would allow delivery about next February, which is cutting time short. Some help is forthcoming with the announcement scheduled Tuesday that the America's Cup Organizing Committee has secured AT&T as a sponsor and will share the pie with the two defense syndicates. But it will take much more for Conner to get a second boat, with additional sails, crew and operating costs. Stars & Stripes did receive a second boat recently--a one-third-scale model that was used for tank testing. . . . Italy's Il Moro di Venezia team is considering doing what America-3 did in August--spend a week or two based in San Pedro to test and train in better wind. . . . Russia's Red Star syndicate is still planning to come but hasn't started sailing its first aluminum boat at Tallin on the Baltic Sea. The second, a carbon-fiber boat, is scheduled for completion in November, but the problem may be transporting it to San Diego. To raise funds--and make a statement for capitalism--the team is marketing a line of monogrammed caps, shirts and jackets in the United States. Details: (800) 284-1992.
MATCH RACING--Confirmed entries in the Omega Gold Cup off Bermuda Oct. 12-20 include top-ranked Chris Dickson, the Nippon Challenge skipper from New Zealand; Peter Gilmour, Australia; Rod Davis and Russell Coutts, New Zealand; Eddie Warden-Owen, Wales; and Peter Isler, La Jolla. The event will be followed by the Mazda World Championship of Match Racing Oct. 23-27 in the same waters. . . . Davis, an expatriate American, and his wife Liz recently became parents of their third child, a son born in Coronado, where Davis once lived and where the Kiwis are based for the America's Cup. Their two daughters were born in Fremantle, Australia, and Auckland, N.Z.
NOTEWORTHY--The Yacht Clubs of Long Beach will have their annual Charity Regatta for the Children's Clinic on Sept. 29. Details: (714) 531-2098. . . . Nina Nielsen of Newport Harbor YC, with crew Suzanne Spangler and Lenore Collins, won the Area J Adams Cup (women's national sailing championship) semifinals at NHYC. The winners will represent Southern California in the finals at San Francisco this month. . . . Dick Schmidt's Outlier from California YC won the Schock 35 Nationals at San Diego, topping a 23-boat fleet with a 1-3-1-1-2 series. Alain Levi's Psychobetty of CYC was second, followed by Ed Cummins' Bold Forbes of NHYC and Rick Dorfman's Main Squeeze of CYC.