Homeless boat spotted under the 520 Bridge in Seattle

May 7, 2018, 1:30 PM

A kayaker was recently spending a sunny day on the waters around Seattle when something stood out amid the scenic journey — a homeless boat. That is, like a homeless tent — common along Seattle’s sidewalks and freeways — but erected on a small boat and tucked away, out of view.

RELATED: 7 points Seattle leaders should understand about homelessness

It was tied up under the 520 bridge between Marsh Island and Foster Island around the Arboretum in Seattle. The boat was out of the way, yet not terribly obscure to folks on the water, according to the kayaker. The kayaker posted the photo on reddit, stating “Captain, they’ve adapted.”

The Seattle Police Department’s harbor unit went out to look for it, but the homeless boat moved in the week since it was spotted.

The sighting raises questions about how authorities handle the region’s homelessness crisis on the water. In short, you can’t live just anywhere.

“You cannot just go ahead and drop anchor in the water where it’s not allowed,” said Seattle Police Sergeant Sean Whitcomb.

Seattle has rules and regulations for dealing with homeless encampments. When Seattle authorities receive a report of an encampment, they generally send the Navigation Team which offers services to the campers. Depending on how safe or unsafe the campsite is, the residents may be asked to leave within a given amount of time.

Homeless boat

Seattle’s waterways are akin to a freeway. The stretches between Elliott Bay and Lake Washington are constantly used for shipping goods and for mass transit. And like the freeway, there are also individuals getting from point A to point B. Throw in an airport on Lake Union and it can get a bit crowded. Floating a tent in the middle of all that is like setting up camp on the ramp between I-5 and I-90 in downtown Seattle. And we all saw what one minor interruption there can do to the city’s traffic.

“Ultimately, boats are significantly different than encampments,” Whitcomb said. “For us, we want to make sure everyone is safe. The problem with an improperly moored boat or a boat where it shouldn’t be is there is a risk of collision, etcetera … the comparison, while I understand it to be similar, it’s just not at all comparable when it comes to frequency … there’s just different risk factors and ultimately we want the waters to be safe.”

The only locations where boaters can settle is Andrews Bay (near Seward Park) and at commercial morage. Seattle Police Harbor Patrol will respond to a boat anchored or tied up where it shouldn’t be — such as under the 520 bridge. Derelict boats are impounded and taken to the police department’s harbor station. Unseaworthy boats are handed over to the Army Corps of Engineers for disposal.

There were about 10 boats at the harbor station at the beginning of May. And while the harbor patrol often deals with derelict vessels, a homeless boat is not something that they commonly find.

“Our harbor patrol has a number of vessels that patrol regularly and are dedicated to making our waterways safe here for Seattle residents and for anyone visiting, that could include keeping the lanes safe for Kenmore Air, or rescuing kayakers or wind surfers who went out on a bad day, or enforcing boating-under-the-influence laws,” Whitcomb said. “Part of that means we make sure we don’t have any derelict vessels out there that might present a risk to other boaters.”

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Homeless boat spotted under the 520 Bridge in Seattle