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Best practices for removal of vessels post hurricanes

Hewlett assess damage to a vessel in Jacksonville, Florida caused by Hurricane Irma, Sept. 13, 2017.

The Emergency Support Function 10 (ESF 10) Florida, consisting of multiple state and federal agencies, is continuing efforts to assess and remove hazards in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

Coast Guard and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission members are conducting assessments of damaged and sunken vessels in the areas most affected by Hurricane Irma. These assessments assist in providing an overarching image to the unified command of the effects of the storm, allowing for the effective placement of assets, expediting the response process.

Vessel owners are encouraged to hire a salvage company to recover their vessel in order to provide the safest method possible for the vessel and the environment. A sunken or displaced vessel is a hazard to the environment. The removal of displaced vessel can hasten the recovery and overall resilience of native marine plants and animals.

Information for Boat Owners removing their boats

Vessel owners are encouraged to hire a professional salvage company to recover their vessel in order to provide the safest method possible for your vessel and the environment.

Hewlett assess damage to a vessel in Jacksonville, Florida caused by Hurricane Irma, Sept. 13, 2017.

Vessel assessments, pollution mitigation in the wake of Hurricane Irma

Open Water and Nearshore Operations

  • Removal operations must take place during daylight hours.
  • Perform site visits and work from waterways, paved surfaces, or existing roadways whenever possible to minimize impacts to sensitive habitats.
  • Select vehicles and equipment that are least likely to disturb soils/sediments and keep loading to a minimum to reduce ground pressure (on unpaved surfaces).
  • Remove all equipment and materials deployed to facilitate removal operations at conclusion of operations.
  • Do not block major egress points in channels, passes, and bays during assessment and/or recovery operations.
  • Vessels should anchor in bare sand bottom areas during all in-water response operations when possible.
  • When operating motor vessels over seagrass, coral, and hardbottom areas, care should be taken to avoid propeller scarring or washing.
  • Use floating lines for anchoring and vessel removal operations to prevent line sweeping of coral, seagrass, and sea bed.
  • If a vessel will be towed, the selected extraction path should ensure that no additional groundings or damage to sensitive habitats will take place as a result of the recovery.
  • Incidental dredging and/or filling associated with removal may require approval from Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
  • Marine debris removal activities should be conducted at sufficient tide and water depths to minimize any risk to sensitive habitats, including coral reefs and seagrasses.
  • Minimize ground-disturbing activities to as small an area as feasible to complete the task.

Vessel assessments, pollution mitigation in the wake of Hurricane Irma


  • Watch for and avoid collisions with sea turtles, manatees, dolphins, sawfish, sturgeon, whales, or other animals. Stop operating mechanical construction equipment, including vessels, immediately if a protected or Endangered Species Act - listed species is observed within a 50-ft radius of equipment and resume after the species has departed the area of its own volition.
  • When sea turtles, manatees, dolphins, sawfish, sturgeon, whales, or other animals aresighted while a vessel is underway, attempt to remain parallel to the animal’s course.
  • Avoid excessive speed or abrupt changes in direction until they have left the area.
  • Obey all Manatee protective zones or boating safety zone regulations.
  • Maintain a minimum distance of 300’ from any observed animals.
  • Reduce speed to 10 knots or less when sea turtles, manatees, dolphins, sawfish, sturgeon, whales, or other animals are observed, when safety permits.
  • Avoid all bird nesting or aggregation areas.
  • Removal operations should avoid marked sea turtle or bird nests and stay low on the beach to minimize contact with unmarked nests. In the event that nesting turtles, birds, or hatchlings are sighted, cease removal operations in the area.
  • Remove all trash or anything that would attract wildlife to work areas.
  • Any killed or injured fish or wildlife observed should be reported to the appropriate Wildlife Agency for proper determination and action.

Vessel assessments continue in the Florida Keys

If Vessel Owner is removing their vessel:

Notify Hurricane Irma Vessel Hotline of plans for vessel removal by calling (305)-985-3744.

Vessel Removal information:

  • Vessel registration#
  • Current Owner name:
  • Vessel Location:
  • Date of removal:
  • Contractor/salvor/self:



Any salvage operations conducted within or requiring transit through the Key West Main Ship Channel, Cut A, Cut B, Key West Bight Channel, the Key West Harbor including the Upper and Lower Turning Basins, and Fleming Cut including vessels in the vicinity of NAS Trumbo Point SHALL submit a salvage/transit plan to the COTP for approval prior to operations.

Please submit the salvage/transit plan for approval to Sector Key West at

Further details of USCG Key West Key West Salvage Plan and Restrictions – MSIB 025-17


Teams with the Florida CERF-P performs rescue and reconnaissance in Marathon

The FWC/Coast Guard assumes no responsibility for the safety of the salvage operations. This responsibility rests solely with the vessel owners/operators.


If boat owner takes no action and your vessel remains a threat to the environment, any oil and hazardous substances will be removed from the vessel and then the vessel will be relocated to a FWC staging area.  At this point you can collect your vessel or it may be disposed of after 30 days after owner has been notified.


Emergency Notifications


Anyone witnessing an oil spill, chemical release or maritime security incident should call the National Response Center hotline at 1-800-424-8802. 

Report violations or injured wildlife: 1-800-404-3922


Oil, Fuel or Hazardous Material Spills in Florida Waters: Call 800-320-0519.

To report wildlife law violations anywhere in the state, 24 hours a day, call the toll-free Wildlife Alert hotline: 888-404-FWCC (888-404-3922).


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