Chatham Enters Second Season Of Waterways User Permits

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Waterways

Boats in Stage Harbor, and any other Chatham waterways, require waterways user permits. This is the second season the permits have been required. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – In its first year, the town's waterways user permit seemed to find its way onto most vessels in town, although revenue was slightly below projections.

Waterways officials had projected the fee would generate up to $175,000 annually. In 2017, the permit brought in $170,225, according to Finance Director Alix Heilala.

Part of that shortfall may be because of delays in billing and loss of moorings in some areas that have turned out to be less than ideal for anchoring a boat, such as Scatteree and Cotchpinicut.
For residents and taxpayers, the waterways user fee is $50; for nonresidents, the fee is $150. Every boat that uses the town's landings and waterways is required to have the permit.

There have been few complaints about the permit, said Harbormaster Stuart Smith. For the 2,196 mooring permit holders, the waterways user cost is incorporated into their annual renewal fee. Those who trailer their boats and use town landings to launch them must purchase the permit separately. More than 265 have been processed so far this season. Another 600 marina permit renewals are going out this week.

Enforcement is “always a challenge,” Smith said. A full-time town landings officer patrols the major town landings – Ryder's Cove, Barn Hill Road, Mitchell River, Crow's Pond – daily, but “he can only be in one place,” Smith noted, although a second part-time landing officer is coming on board this week or next.

Those who trailer their boats get a placard for their vehicle so officials know they are properly permitted. The officer attaches a flyer to the windshield of vehicles that don't have the placard. Smith said any noncompliance appears to be out of ignorance, not on purpose.

“I don't think there's people saying no, we're not going to do that,” he said. “It's just mainly people who haven't gotten the word yet.”

As of this week, use of Ryder's Cove, the most popular landing in town, has not been as intense as in past summers. Striped bass have been largely southeast of Monomoy, not east of North Beach as in past summers, and many commercial bass fishermen appear to be using Saquatucket Harbor in Harwich instead of Chatham, to launch their vessels, Smith said. Some may not have taken out their Chatham waterways user permit yet, preferring to wait until they need it.

“Maybe that $150 has scared some people away,” Smith said. “But that's not a big amount of money for somebody who's going to go bass fishing.”

Waterways user permits are available at the harbormaster's office, open seven days a week at Old Mill Boatyard at the end of Stage Harbor Road, and at the town's permit department. Applications can be downloaded at the town's website,

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