Boaters Adapting To Chatham's New Waterways User Permit

By: Tim Wood

A boater trailers his vessel at Ryder's Cove town landing. Anyone using town landings is now required to obtain a waterways user permit. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – Like anything new, it's taking a little time for boaters to get used to the fact that they need to pay a fee to access the town's waterways.

A waterways user permit is now in effect, required for any vessel launched from a public ramp. The permit costs $150 for nonresidents and $50 for residents, and covers all vessels except canoes, kayaks and any unregistered boat.

While officials are empowered to fine boaters without the permit up to $200, a lighter approach is being taken this first season. It seems to be paying off.

“For the most part, everybody's been very cordial about it,” said Town Landing Officer David Likos. That doesn't mean there hasn't been complaints from boaters who are suddenly told they need a $150 permit to launch their boats for the day from Ryder's Cove, Barn Hill Road or other town landings. Some residents and property owners haven't been happy, either, Likos said, grumbling about having to pay another fee on top of property taxes.

Once he explains that the fee is designed to help fund improvements to town landings and other waterside infrastructure, and they get the permit, “they're happy,” Likos said.

“The biggest concern is the daytrippers,” noted Robert Duncanson, director of the town's natural resources department. Mooring permit holders paid their waterways user fee along with their mooring fee as part of their annual renewal earlier this year, leaving non-mooring permit holders as the biggest user group to capture with the new permits. And most of those folks come from out of town.

Having those who use the launching ramps and other waterways services help pay the cost of operating, maintaining and improvement waterways infrastructure was one of the main reasons the waterways advisory committee and selectmen backed the new permit.

The permits were expected to generate about $175,000 in revenue annually, which goes into the new waterways user fee revolving fund. The money can be used to “defray waterways capital expenses related to design, permitting,construction, major repairs or replacement of public waterfront/waterway infrastructure,” according to the town meeting article last May that established the fund. Officials have identified more than $11 million in waterways infrastructure needs in a five-year capital plan, also endorsed at town meeting, including improvements to the fish pier, the Eldredge Trap Dock and numerous town landings.

Through April, the permits had generated $116,678, according to Finance Director Alix Heilala.

Staff at the harbormaster office say they haven't had time to tally the number of waterways user permits sold thus far. Along with those included with mooring renewal notices, nearly 120 applications were sent to local boatyards to cover vessels they store.

The permits are available at the harbormaster office at Old Mill Boatyard and at the permit department at the annex on George Ryder Road. Duncanson said officials are taking an “education tack” this season.

“We're trying to make it easy, recognizing it's something new,” he said.

The new permit replaces the daily ramp pass previously issued for Ryder's Cove, and Likos said an email was sent to boaters who paid for the pass in other seasons notifying them of the new waterways user fee permit requirement.

The new waterways user permit must be attached to the port side of the vessel; Likos said the permit paperwork should be left on the dashboard of the boater's vehicle. He said he's become pretty good at matching trailers with boats, but will suggest that stickers be issued for boat trailers, as well as vessels. “It would just make checking a lot easier,” he said. He anticipates making that and a few other minor suggestions to the waterways advisory committee at a post-season review of the permit's first year.

“There's definitely a learning curve,” he said, both for boaters and officials.

The big test, however, will be when – and if – the massive bass bite that's happened off Chatham in summers past hits. Right now, Likos said, the big bass schools are off Provincetown, and while some commercial bass fishermen are launching from Chatham, it's nowhere near the numbers that crowd into Ryder's Cove when the bass are just east of town. In summers past, traffic jams and even fist fights have resulted as dozens of eager bass fishermen attempt to get their boats launched at the town landing. This year, they'll all require waterways user permits.

“The test will come when I come over the hill at Old Comers and see 58 trailers lined up,” Likos said.

CHATHAM – Like anything new, it's taking a little time for boaters to get used to the fact that they need to pay a fee to access the town's waterways.

A waterways user permit is now in effect, required for any vessel launched from a public ramp. The permit costs $150 for nonresidents and $50 for residents, and covers all vessels except canoes, kayaks and any unregistered boat.

While officials are empowered to fine boaters without the permit up to $200, a lighter approach is being taken this first season. It seems to be paying off.

“For the most part, everybody's been very cordial about it,” said Town Landing Officer David Likos. That doesn't mean there hasn't been complaints from boaters who are suddenly told they need a $150 permit to launch their boats for the day from Ryder's Cove, Barn Hill Road or other town landings. Some residents and property owners haven't been happy, either, Likos said, grumbling about having to pay another fee on top of property taxes.

Once he explains that the fee is designed to help fund improvements to town landings and other waterside infrastructure, and they get the permit, “they're happy,” Likos said.

“The biggest concern is the daytrippers,” noted Robert Duncanson, director of the town's natural resources department. Mooring permit holders paid their waterways user fee along with their mooring fee as part of their annual renewal earlier this year, leaving non-mooring permit holders as the biggest user group to capture with the new permits. And most of those folks come from out of town.

Having those who use the launching ramps and other waterways services help pay the cost of operating, maintaining and improvement waterways infrastructure was one of the main reasons the waterways advisory committee and selectmen backed the new permit.

The permits were expected to generate about $175,000 in revenue annually, which goes into the new waterways user fee revolving fund. The money can be used to “defray waterways capital expenses related to design, permitting,construction, major repairs or replacement of public waterfront/waterway infrastructure,” according to the town meeting article last May that established the fund. Officials have identified more than $11 million in waterways infrastructure needs in a five-year capital plan, also endorsed at town meeting, including improvements to the fish pier, the Eldredge Trap Dock and numerous town landings.

Through April, the permits had generated $116,678, according to Finance Director Alix Heilala.

Staff at the harbormaster office say they haven't had time to tally the number of waterways user permits sold thus far. Along with those included with mooring renewal notices, nearly 120 applications were sent to local boatyards to cover vessels they store.

The permits are available at the harbormaster office at Old Mill Boatyard and at the permit department at the annex on George Ryder Road. Duncanson said officials are taking an “education tack” this season.

“We're trying to make it easy, recognizing it's something new,” he said.

The new permit replaces the daily ramp pass previously issued for Ryder's Cove, and Likos said an email was sent to boaters who paid for the pass in other seasons notifying them of the new waterways user fee permit requirement.

The new waterways user permit must be attached to the port side of the vessel; Likos said the permit paperwork should be left on the dashboard of the boater's vehicle. He said he's become pretty good at matching trailers with boats, but will suggest that stickers be issued for boat trailers, as well as vessels. “It would just make checking a lot easier,” he said. He anticipates making that and a few other minor suggestions to the waterways advisory committee at a post-season review of the permit's first year.

“There's definitely a learning curve,” he said, both for boaters and officials.

The big test, however, will be when – and if – the massive bass bite that's happened off Chatham in summers past hits. Right now, Likos said, the big bass schools are off Provincetown, and while some commercial bass fishermen are launching from Chatham, it's nowhere near the numbers that crowd into Ryder's Cove when the bass are just east of town. In summers past, traffic jams and even fist fights have resulted as dozens of eager bass fishermen attempt to get their boats launched at the town landing. This year, they'll all require waterways user permits.

“The test will come when I come over the hill at Old Comers and see 58 trailers lined up,” Likos said.