FWC Officers Arrest Two for Boot Key Derelict Vessels

Derelict vessels, like this one photographed in Boot Key Harbor in late 2021, are a costly eyesore that can have significant environmental impacts and legal ramifications for negligent owners. ALEX RICKERT/Keys Weekly

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers arrested two men on charges related to derelict vessels. Bradley L. Cochran, 35, of Marathon was arrested on Aug. 16, and Jonathan F. Rayha, 53, of Marathon was arrested on Aug. 22. Both men were charged with one first-degree misdemeanor pertaining to derelict vessels in two separate incidents. 

Two FWC officers inspected Cochran’s vessel while on patrol near Boot Harbor Key in Marathon. Cochran’s vessel, already allegedly identified by one officer as derelict earlier in the month, still had no means of propulsion or steerage. He was placed under arrest and transported to a local jail.

Officers later responded to a mostly sunken vessel owned by Rayha in Boot Key Harbor on Aug. 21. The officers said they observed fuel leaking into the harbor from the vessel and notified the United States Coast Guard to conduct a cleanup. The following day, after relocating the vessel from the mooring field, Rayha was arrested and transported to a local jail. 

Derelict vessels and vessels at risk of becoming derelict (at-risk vessels) can cause property damage, pose threats to public safety, destroy valuable seagrass resources and endanger marine life. They can also pose a hazard when they block navigable waterways. 

Removing at-risk or public nuisance vessels before they become derelict will save Florida taxpayers money. Removal costs for vessels still floating are significantly lower than costs for removing sunken derelict vessels.

FWC created the voluntary Vessel Turn-In Program (VTIP) to help owners dispose of unwanted at-risk vessels before they become derelict. This prevents the legal ramifications of having a derelict vessel and protects Florida’s marine resources and its boating public.

To qualify for VTIP, a vessel must be floating on waters of the state and cannot be already determined derelict by law enforcement. The owner must have at least one written at-risk warning or citation and possess a clear title to the vessel.
More information is at www.myfwc.com/vtip or from the FWC Boating and Waterways Division at 850-488-5600. For more information regarding derelict and at-risk vessels, visit myfwc.com/boating and click on “Waterway Management” and “Derelict Vessel Removal Program.”