California’s recreational boaters could have been in for a shock with a proposed 250% recreational vessel registration fee increase being discussed among Golden State legislators. However, a coalition of boating groups led by Recreational Boaters of California (RBOC) and Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS) successfully eliminated the fee increase from the state’s recently announced budget proposal. At the same time, they kept the door open to more equitably fund the state’s boating safety, infrastructure, environmental and law-enforcement programs. The measure was supported by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“This is the right decision for boaters,” said RBOC President Winston Bumpus. “The further we look into the many different pots where boater-generated fuel-tax dollars are placed, the more questions boaters have identified about the fairness of a registration fee increase.”
Bumpus noted that Golden State boaters pay $107 million each year in fuel taxes to the state, yet only $15 million – or just 14% – is provided to the Harbors and Watercraft Revolving Fund (HWRF) for a number of programs and services, including boater education and operator certification, safety and enforcement on the waterways, boating facilities, removal of abandoned and derelict watercraft, and efforts to combat aquatic invasive species. As recently as 2019, HWRF was close to insolvency.
BoatUS Manager of Government Affairs, David Kennedy said, “This is a great demonstration of the benefits of boaters engaging on issues that matter to their boating. Working with RBOC, more than 4,000 messages were sent by BoatUS members to the legislature and governor. It's clear their voices were heard.”
Coalition members included the Pacific Inter-Club Yacht Association, Southern California Yachting Association, Marine Recreation Association, California Association of Harbor Masters and Port Captains, California Yacht Brokers Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association, California Association of Harbor Masters and Port Captains, as well as thousands of California boaters who took action.
The final state budget action allocates state general fund dollars to HWRF, which is administered by the California Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW). RBOC, BoatUS and others are expected to participate in a public stakeholder process that DBW will initiate in the near future to develop recommendations for long-term solutions to the funding deficiencies with HWRF.
“Boat registration fees will be part of that conversation, together with efficiencies and improvements to existing programs and revisions to better serve the boating public,” added Bumpus.