A new bill introduced in the Missouri senate would prevent boaters from anchoring too close to docks in some areas, and would shore up state law about what constitutes "trespassing" on someone's dock.
Senate Bill 49, in its original language, would prohibit anchoring a boat 100 feet from a dock in a way that prevents ingress and egress from the dock, without the dock owner's permission, and would prohibit use of a dock without the dock owner's permission. The bill was sponsored by Missouri Senator Justin Brown, of District 16 which includes Camden, Crawford, Dent, Phelps, and Pulaski counties.
But isn't it already considered trespassing when a person steps onto someone else's dock without permission? Brown says this is an area of state law that needs more clarity.
"Currently, boat docks are not considered real property even though you pay personal property tax on them. There’s no Missouri law that prevents any individual from entering a private dock. And there never has been a statute that spells that out. Literally, someone could be camping on their dock and there's no legal ramification to get them off your dock," Brown said.
The two key parts of SB49 are as follows:
"No person shall anchor a vessel positioned within one hundred feet of a permitted boat dock on the waters of this state in a manner that obstructs ingress or egress of watercraft to or from the dock, unless authorized by the boat dock permit holder."
"No person shall secure a vessel to or enter upon a private permitted boat dock on the waters of this state unless authorized to do so by the boat dock permit holder. The provisions of this subsection shall not apply during inclement weather conditions or other emergencies, or actions taken to prevent an unsecured vessel from becoming a navigational hazard."
According to Brown, the bill is designed to help dock owners get more control over their dock.
"It doesn’t mean that people can’t fish around them, you just can’t anchor your boat within a hundred feet of the ingress or egress," he said.
He explained, "It’s not like every time someone gets around one [a dock] and gets too close they’re going to get in serious trouble, it’s just that if it’s getting abused. People actually tie up to someone’s private dock and they can be there indefinitely or all day long and you can’t do anything about it."
The bill goes on to say "no person shall secure a vessel to or enter upon a private permitted boat dock on the waters of this state unless authorized to do so by the boat dock permit holder." However, the bill does specify that this would not apply during inclement weather, during actions taken to prevent an unsecured boat from becoming a navigational hazard, or during other emergencies.
Brown says he was receiving complaints about dock misuse, from dock owners at the Lake who were tired of people using their docks without permission and sometimes going as far as camping on the dock.
"There’s several individuals that have reached out to our office over the last year. They’ve had people actually camping on their docks. The Water Patrol will ask them to leave but most of these people are aware of the law if they’re brazen enough to do that. If the campers refuse to leave, the Water Patrol has no power to issue a citation."
Brian Geier, corporal with the Missouri State Highway Patrol Trooper, agrees that even if the Water Patrol (which is a division of the Missouri State Highway Patrol) can ask people to leave a dock, there are currently no real consequences for using a dock without permission.
“Trespassing on a dock isn't considered trespassing because a dock isn’t considered real property. So we can’t write a trespassing ticket. If somebody gets on the dock from the land then we can write them a ticket or arrest them for trespassing because land is real property and they got there that way. But if they got there by water then there’s really no charge for trespassing,” Geier said.
The bill was voted Do Pass in the Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee on Jan. 26, 2021.
According to Brown, he has received 60 statements in support of the bill and none opposed. And with no opposition in the Senate, Brown believes that the bill has a good chance of passing.
"I’m really proud to do this for the Lake," he said. "I’ve wanted to do something for the Lake area the last two sessions. This is one that’s actually constituent-driven that I think’s a good bill and I’m anticipating getting it across the finish line."