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Derelict Boats Pile Up Costs for Taxpayers

The tough economy is making waves for boat owners.

Many people can't afford the luxury of having a boat anymore, and it's causing problems all across the country: America's waterways are becoming dumping grounds filled with boats just left there by their owners.

But somebody has to clean that mess up. And taxpayers are now footing the bill.

"Early Show" consumer correspondent Susan Koeppen reports derelict boats are becoming an all-too-familiar sight along the nation's coastlines. Boats, for one reason or another, are being abandoned by their owners.

Bill Sprauge, of Fla., knows abandoned boats are more than just an eyesore and environmental threat -- they pose a serious threat to boaters.

Sprague and his wife were boating near their home outside West Palm Beach, Fla., when they hit a huge chunk of a derelict boat.

"All of a sudden with were launched completely out of the water," Sprague said. "We were completely airborne. And I knew I hit something substantial."

Sprague estimates there are about 20 abandoned boats in the waterways he travels.

And in Florida, Koeppen reported, it's estimated thousands of boats have been dumped.

Lt. David Dipre, of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said, "Derelict vessels are becoming more numerous.

Experts say with the souring economy an increased number of boats are being set free and left to sink, Koeppen said. Owners are finding it easier, she said, to abandon ship than pay the high price of maintenance. Some are committing insurance fraud by cashing in on their policies, after sinking their own boats, Koeppen said.

Dipre said, "Maybe they paid a little bit of money for it, and said it's just not worth it to fix it up. And so they leave them. What happens then, is the taxpayer, and the state of Florida, become responsible for removing those vessels."

Getting rid of derelict boats is a slow and expensive process, Koeppen reported. The removal of one boat Koeppen found being extricated from the Florida Keys will cost taxpayers roughly $15,000.

And from Florida to California, states all across the country are spending millions removing boats, Koeppen said.

But Sprauge says even more needs to be done to get these boats out of the water.

"People are going to get killed. These pieces of boat are going to pop up, float away, get in someone else's path, they won't be as lucky as we were, and be killed."

The added challenge, Koeppen said, is that once one boat is removed, another pops up. There are thousands of derelict boats, she said, that need to be removed all across the country.

But why not go after the owners of the boats and have them pay to remove them?

Koeppen said the state needs to find the owners first. Many of these boats have been stripped of their identification numbers, Koeppen said, and in many cases, the owners have fled the state or don't have the money to pay.

As for the penalty for dumping a boat, Koeppen told "Early Show" co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez it's a fine, but not a large one.

Koeppen said the best course is to just pay for your boat to be disposed of properly, which could cost just a couple hundred dollars.

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