In Virginia, it is unlawful for an owner to allow a vessel to be in a state of abandonment and in danger of sinking, or in such disrepair as to constitute a hazard or obstruction to the use of a waterway. The Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) possesses the jurisdiction to physically remove or authorize a contractor to remove abandoned and derelict vessels (ADVs) from tidal and non-tidal waters of the Commonwealth. VMRC cannot remove ADVs from lakes or ponds unless the vessel is located within the historic river or stream channel footprint. Inland jurisdiction also only includes water bodies with a drainage area of five square miles or greater.
VMRC law enforcement (Marine Police) may open investigations to identify the last known owner of a vessel and compel them to remove the vessel via court order. Several coastal Virginia localities have also enacted ADV removal ordinances under authority granted to them by the General Assembly. Individual citizens may also apply to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) to gain title to an abandoned vessel. This process involves a good faith effort to contact the last known owner, and submitting a form containing information about the vessel. Once gaining title to the vessel, the individual assumes all liability and costs associated with removal.
In 2022, VMRC received $3 million in funds from the Virginia General Assembly to create and implement an Abandoned or Derelict Vessel Program to remove ADVs via requests for proposals (RFPs) from eligible participants. Eligible participants include state, county, municipal governments, and planning district commissions (PDCs) of the Commonwealth of Virginia that have jurisdiction or authority in Virginia’s marine environment. Nongovernmental organizations are required to operate under an agreement with a county or municipality or may be identified as a sub-recipient for the grant award and appointed by the county or municipality. Grant funds under this program are not directly awarded to nongovernmental organizations or private citizens. For more information on the ADV Grant Program contact Rachael Peabody at 757-247-2200 or visit the ADV Grant Program website.
Alternatively, future program funding may be provided to VMRC via the Marine Habitat and Waterways Improvement Fund and managed in a similar manner. This Fund receives monies from legislative appropriations and the proceeds from the sale of state-owned marine lands. In addition, the Commissioner is authorized to accept gifts and grants for the Fund. The Marine Habitat and Waterways Improvement Fund can only be used to improve marine habitat and waterways, which includes the removal of obstructions or hazardous property from state waters.
Provisions under Virginia Annotated Code (§ 28.2 and § 29.1) allow for the removal and disposal of abandoned and derelict vessels found on both private and public property by VMRC. In addition, state law allows local governments to enact ordinances authorizing the removal of abandoned vessels. DWR has authority for vessel registration and titling and may grant title to individual applicants in accordance with Section 29.1-733.25 of the Virginia Annotated Code.
Point of Contact
In Virginia, DWR is responsible for all vessel titling and registration while VMRC and a few localities may physically remove ADVs.
For boat registration and titling, contact DWR at (866) 721-6911 or visit their website.