Historically, a boatyard is probably the last place that comes to mind when you think of the word “clean.” However, it is very clear that in the State of California and beyond, boatyards of the future are destined to no longer hold last place.

For better or worse, slowly the outdated and noncompliant boatyards have been closing. Smaller coastal harbors that once boasted several boatyards, such as Half Moon Bay and Bodega Bay, today have none. Whether these closures are a consequence of a reduced fishery, ever increasing land values or the enormous challenges that come with operating a business in California, the impacts are undeniable and there is no sign of reversal.

Some maritime businesses have retreated to other states, such as North Sails did to Nevada or Catalina Yachts which now builds their boats in Florida. But if you’re in the marina or boatyard business, you do not have that option. You’re pretty much stuck right where you are.

This inconvenient reality, to one degree or another, allows California to serve as the best indicator as to the future of the regulatory and non-governmental organizations’ (NGOs’) views of the maritime industry. Moreover, there is a view held by some agencies and NGOs who see the maritime industry as an opportunity. Some take advantage of the fact that we are a “captive audience” and leverage these circumstances to either justify their existence or generate income from us, or both.   We have seen an emergence of NGOs threaten members of the maritime industry, accompanied by their troupe of attorneys, who look to exploit California’s stringent regulatory requirements, independent of severity of the alleged infraction, similar to the nuisance lawsuits associated with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The response to these legal actions, whether done willingly or under pressure, has caused more than a few boatyard operators to clean up their act. This growing number of operators has made huge investments into the future of the maritime industry by renovating and updating their facilities. These investments, however critical to achieving compliance, are only one side of the equation.

Even with the best of intentions and investment, California’s regulations are hard to meet. For example, while it is perfectly legal for a boatyard to apply a pesticide in unlimited quantities, such as copper bottom paint, yet it is nearly impossible to achieve California’s benchmark for copper in storm water discharge, which is 33 parts per billion. This extraordinarily low concentration of copper is 4,000 percent more stringent than what is allowed in drinking water. Effectively, running a garden hose over the deck of your boat constitutes a violation of California environmental law.

While the above example is obviously discouraging, there is hope and progress is being made in the maritime industry. Organizations such as MRA (Marine Recreation Association) are creating opportunities for marine businesses to join forces to help the common good. For example, in response to the actions taken by an unscrupulous NGO against several members of our community, MRA formed a consortium of similarly impacted boatyards and marinas to file a comprehensive complaint with various oversight agencies requesting legal action be brought against this NGO. That investigation is now underway.

This past year during the California Boating Congress, participants were given a poster-sized Regulatory Matrix listing all the various agencies that govern the maritime industry. These posters were then hand delivered to our elected officials. We believe it was a good way to graphically illustrate the astonishing number of agencies and redundancy that exist in the governance of our industry.

We have also seen a change with the Clean Marina Program. What was once a certification program that was focused exclusively on marinas has now been rebranded as the Clean Marine Program, which includes the certification of boatyards.

There is no doubt our industry has its fair share of challenges but there are also many opportunities as well. Our ability to meet and overcome these challenges can be most effectively achieved by working together.