Abandoned Vessels on State Waterways

California has the fourth largest boating population in the nation, with nearly one million registered recreational vessels. While responsible owners dispose of vessels lawfully, others abandon them on state waterways where they impede navigation, interfere with boating traffic, and cause environmental harm.

Our abandoned vessel removal program began when SB 595 (Wolk, Chapter 595, Statutes of 2011) was enacted. This new law established an administrative removal and disposal process for abandoned and trespassing vessels on waterways under the Commission’s jurisdiction. The law authorized the Commission to immediately remove a vessel without notice if it hinders navigation, is a threat to vessel operators, an environmental hazard, or a public nuisance. Although the authority created in SB 595 is exclusive to the Commission, local jurisdictions also have the authority to remove abandoned vessels and frequently do so. Another key abandoned vessel law was enacted in 2015 when AB 1323 was signed into law. AB 1323 authorizes a public agency to remove and dispose of marine debris after 10 days if the debris is floating, sunk, partially sunk, or beached in or on a public waterway, public beach, or on state tide or submerged lands.

The Commission focuses its efforts on commercial vessels because no other state agency has both the authority and funds to do so. Recreational vessels are typically smaller and less expensive to remove, and funding may be available to remove them through the Division of Boating and Waterways Surrendered and Abandoned Vessel Exchange (SAVE) grant program.

Examples of recently removed abandoned vessels

Removal and disposal of tugboat, Standard No. 2, from Sevenmile Slough

Removal and disposal of tugboat, Standard No. 2, from Sevenmile Slough

In September, the Commission removed another abandoned vessel from a state waterway, the Tugboat Standard No. 2. The removal follows official Commission authorization last year (Staff Report 31) for staff to take title to, remove, and dispose of the tugboat Standard...

Removal and disposal of ASR-85, All American, from the Sacramento River

Removal and disposal of ASR-85, All American, from the Sacramento River

On August 3, the Commission’s contractor demolished a derelict vessel called the All American. The All American was a former military Air-Sea Rescue (ASR or “crash boat”) 85-foot vessel that had been privately owned for many years. A homeowner brought the All...

Valiant safely removed from the water at Mare Island

Valiant safely removed from the water at Mare Island

On January 12, the VALIANT, a 107 ton abandoned WWII-era steel tugboat, broke free from its mooring in Sevenmile Slough, Sacramento County, and drifted into the San Joaquin River navigation channel. The Commission, Sacramento and San Joaquin County Sheriff’s offices,...

More examples of removed vessels

Gretchen E.

the abandoned ship, docked.

The Gretchen E., docked.

In 2018, the Commission and the U.S. Coast Guard removed the derelict 55-foot, steel-hulled, landing craft–style Gretchen E. at Crockett Marina in Contra Costa County. The removal was precipitated by the U.S. Coast Guard responding to reported oil sheens and discovering oil bubbles coming from the Gretchen E. Commission staff worked with the U.S. Coast Guard to remove and demolish the Gretchen E. The initial plan, lifting the vessel out of the water by crane barge, was discarded because the Marina was too narrow for a barge to enter. instead, we refloated the boat, using a small boat to tow it out of the marina and then using two tugs—one on either side—to tow it across the Strait to Mare Island. This approach worked. We towed the Gretchen E to Mare Island and lifted it out of the water. We removed hazardous material and sent the vessel to a scrapper for demolition.

Spirit of Sacramento

The abandoned and sinking vessel, Spirit of Sacramento

The old Spirit of Sacramento was built in 1942 by the Berkeley Steel Construction Co. as a snag boat for the Army Corp. of Engineers and named the Putah. It was last documented by the Coast Guard in 2000 as the Grand Romance at 82 ft. in length; 32.5 ft. in breath; drawing 3.9 ft. at a gross tonnage of 97 tons.

Previously named the Chici San it was used in the 1954 movie “Blood Alley” starring John Wayne. It was acquired by Star Excursions Inc. in 1991 for a show boat in Old Sacramento. In 1996 it burned to the waterline and was sold and rebuilt then moved it the location in the photographs on the Sacramento River. There it periodically was swamped and sunk until it was raised and removed by court order as the result of a lawsuit by the Commission.

San Diego

The San Diego, an abandoned vessel.

With her sister ship the Coronado, the San Diego, built by the Moore Drydock Company in 1931 in Oakland, at 191 ft. in length and 43 ft. wide, provided car and passenger transportation between the City of San Diego and Coronado Island before the bridge was built in 1969. Then purchased by the Olympic Navigation Company she served the route between Port Townsend and Whidbey Island in Washington.  The San Diego moved to Vancouver, British Columbia when its owners ceased operation in 1974 and remained for 20 years as the Klondike Queen, waiting to be rebuilt as a paddlewheel excursion boat.

Brought back to California in 1994, she became the failed venture of the City of Antioch to turn her into a floating restaurant called Huckleberries. Sold to a Sacramento Corporation which operated riverboats, she partially burned and was eventually traded to an individual for Delta land. Then the San Diego was moored in the Sacramento River at the lower tip of Decker Island.

A phone inquiry from the Solano County Sheriff’s marine patrol questioned her right to be moored at that location, side tied to the Faithful, a 293 ft. former cruiser/hospital ship. A threat of legal action resulted in the removal of the Faithful, but a lawsuit and years of negotiation was required to finally remove and demolish the San Diego. Various parts of her structure have been retained and are on display at the San Diego Maritime Museum.

Oakland / Alameda Estuary Cleanup

abandoned boat in the estuary

The cleanup efforts in the Oakland/Alameda estuary.

Officers with the Oakland police department first noted what a cleanup could accomplish when First Lady Michelle Obama visited the Estuary to christen a ship. On patrol of the Estuary, the large number of abandoned and derelict boats that littered the waters and shores were observed on a daily basis. The police department contacted the California Department of Resources, Recycling, and Recovery (CalRecycle) and requested the Commission exercise its authority under Public Resources Code Section 6302.1 to remove the vessels. With funding from CalRecycle and a matching grant from the Trust created from the penalties of the Cosco Busan oil spill, the effort started.

An initial survey in 2012 recorded the location of each boat, which was logged and photographed. Once funding was confirmed in 2013, a task force of Oakland and Alameda police, accompanied by other police agencies, the Coast Guard, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, posted a 30-day notice of trespass on each boat. Boats remaining after the 30-day notice expired were towed and impounded. The few seaworthy vessels were eligible for release, but the majority were un-seaworthy and demolished. Altogether, trespass notices were posted on 38 boats, 18 boats left voluntarily, five moved within the Estuary and were later located and demolished, two left the Estuary but were later found derelict in other areas and recovered and demolished. A total of 58 abandoned or derelict boats were removed and demolished along with pilings, docks, and other shore debris.

Courtland Pontoon Boat


The abandoned and sinking vessel, the Courtland Pontoon Boat.

This pontoon boat was free floating down the Sacramento River near the town of Courtland. Commission staff procured the services of a Sacramento auto wrecking company and managed to pull the boat up the river bank and onto highway 160. After it emerged from the river it was discovered that its pontoons were flooded, which added about ten thousand pounds to the effort. Once they were drained, it was hauled off to the wrecking company’s yard.

Larger view available. Credit: NOAA Office of Response & Restoration. 


Public Land Manager
Vicki Caldwell

Media Inquiries
Sheri Pemberton

Abandoned Commercial Vessel Removal Plan

AB 2441 (Frazier, 2019) requires the Commission to develop a plan to remove abandoned and derelict commercial vessels in the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta.

Abandoned Commercial Vessel Removal Plan

Best Management Practices

The Commission’s best management practices are advisory and provide guidance to local entities responsible for marine debris removal. The Commission adopted these best management practices in 2016, following the enactment of AB 1323 (Frazier), which required the Commission to adopt best management practices for marine debris removal after consulting with interested state and local entities.

Best Management Practices for Marine Debris Removal