‘Hobo boats’ leave sewage, clutter and taxpayer costs

5-20-13-abandoned boat-gabriel walker
A seemingly abandoned boat takes on water along the Vancouver, Wash., shoreline as a sheriff's office moves in with its boat to determine the next step. (KOIN 6 News, Courtesy Gabriel Walker)

VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — Neighbors call them hobo boats.

But it may take the Coast Guard to pry one off the rocks in the Columbia River near downtown Vancouver.

The 25-foot cabin cruiser has been partly submerged for two weeks just off Southeast Columbia Way, near the north end of the Interstate-5 bridge.

A Clark County marine deputy told KOIN 6 News transient boats are becoming more common on area water ways. Trace amounts of gas surround the boat. The contents of the struggling couple who lived on the boat are still inside.

Daniel Bailey jumped in the water Monday afternoon in a failed attempt to help another boater pull the stranded cabin cruiser off the rocks.

“These rivers are my heart and soul,” Bailey said, “and I don’t want them messed up.”

He said he’s concerned about what implications the rising numbers of what he calls hobo boats have for Portland-area rivers.

“You still have to take care of your trash and your sewage,” he said. “You might not have to pay rent or water or all that other stuff, but you still have to be responsible.”

Multnomah County Marine Deputy Rob Osborn said deputies know of nearly 50 transient boats, many of them anchored on the Willamette River at downtown Portland, using public docks as personal living space. There also have been complaints from houseboat owners near the Sellwood Bridge about transient boats dumping sewage into water near their homes.

“Right now we’re trying to enforce time limits on docks,” said Ron Osborn with the Multnomah Sheriff’s Marine Patrol. “[We're trying to] make sure everyone is following the rules, make sure people have the proper registration, safety equipment, lighting — so it’s not a hazard on the river.”

The sheriff boats can “move boaters along” under the Portland area’s new 30-day anchoring restrictions that rolled out Jan. 1. Boats must then move at least five miles away.

However, Deputy Osborn said the sheriff’s office does not have authority to remove decrepit boats from the water.

Removing the boat stranded on the Columbia River off Columbia Way will be a several thousand dollar undertaking. Taxpayers will likely have to pick up the tab.

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