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What’s going on with the two sunken sailboats near Masonboro Island?

Julian March
Red sailboat

One of the abandoned sailboats in the waters west of Masonboro Island. (Contributed photo)

Officials are asking the same question.

Both the boats are within the jurisdiction of Masonboro Island, which is protected by the N.C. Coastal Reserve.

“We know about them and we’ve made some attempts to locate the people responsible for them are we’ve actually started exploring what it will take to get them out of there,” said Hope Sutton, a stewardship coordinator in the Wilmington office of the Coastal Reserve.

Both boats are 20 to 30 feet long and appear to have been anchored in the waters west of the island, and then abandoned.

“It’s a complicated situation,” Sutton said. “Both of them were purchased by people and then never registered.” Since they were not registered with the Wildlife Resources Commission, there is no easy way to find the owners.

There is a Wildlife Resources Commission process to prove that a boat’s owner cannot be found, but Sutton said then the Coastal Reserve would have to claim the boats.

Though the boats have been there for months, Sutton said the issue is still murky.

“When does it become the state’s problem? It’s tricky,” she said. “In the state of North Carolina, there’s not a program for dealing with derelict vessels.”

There’s another reason she has waited to start that process.

“I’ve hesitated to go through the process of the state claiming them legally, because then we have crossed into now we are responsible for getting them out of the waterway,” she said.

The problem is, there’s no money in the tightened state budget to pay to remove the boats.

“We’re trying to be creative about it,” Sutton said. She may look for volunteers to help remove the boat, or ask if someone would be willing to help pay to remove them.

Sutton, who manages five reserves along the coast, said abandoned boats are not unusual.

“At one point last year, there were five abandoned boats on Masonboro,” she said. There’s also a sailboat on the south end of the island.

She says a tough economy makes the problem worse.

“People buy boats thinking they’re going to fix them up and then they run out of money,” she said.

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7 Responses to “ What’s going on with the two sunken sailboats near Masonboro Island?”

  1. On July 29, 2011 at 10:05 pm Kevin Bartlett wrote:

    Yes, there is a way to find out who owns the boats. If the boats had previously been registered in NC, there is a form to fill out and procedures to follow. In the opinion of the State of NC, the boat belongs to the last registered owner, even if the boat was sold but never re-registered by the new owner. I found an abandoned boat some years ago and tracked down the previous owner who was astonished to find out that he still legally owned it, even though years before he had traded it to a dealer who then resold it. Neither the dealer nor the subsequent buyer ever bothered to re-register the boat. He signed ownership over to me and I then re-registered it in my name. Only when I received my registration from the state did I take possession of the boat. This was all 10 years ago, so things may have changed since then.

  2. On July 31, 2011 at 10:18 am Wayne wrote:

    Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

  3. On August 1, 2011 at 12:42 pm Anthony Lilley wrote:

    Neither of the abandoned vessels belong to me, however if I remove one or both can I keep them?

  4. On August 4, 2011 at 10:29 am Mark Gorges wrote:

    I would personally be interested in salvaging the boats if it were allowed for them to join one of our artificial reef systems.

  5. On November 3, 2011 at 5:53 pm David J Gish wrote:

    Hi i would love to help get the boats out of the water and ive been looking for a sail boat for a long time its my only dream and life goal . ive been trying so hard to get a sailboat and it breaks my heart to see so many going to wast . i would do anything to have 1 and know i can help fix the problem of these boats . Please let me know if i can do anything.

  6. On November 4, 2011 at 6:17 pm Julian March wrote:

    Mr. Gish,

    I saw your comment on our MyReporter post about the abandoned sailboats. Here is a link with information about how to legally claim them:


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