Sunken houseboat at channel marker R85

A sunken houseboat near channel marker R85 has become a navigational hazard for boaters.

A houseboat that sunk in October has become an ongoing navigation hazard on the Roanoke River arm of the lake. It is one of multiple sunken vessels that the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is working to either raise or remove from the lake.

Appalachian Power placed a temporary buoy with an amber light marking a portion of the houseboat poking out of the water near channel marker R85 shortly after it was found. VDGIF Sgt. Karl Martin said the houseboat likely sank following heavy rains brought by the remnants of Hurricane Michael as it passed through the area Oct. 11.

Martin said VDGIF recently found the owners of the houseboat after more than a month of investigating. He said finding a boat’s owner can be difficult or impossible when a boat is sold and the boat’s registration is not changed.

“The owners can often be hard to locate,” Martin said.

New boat owners are required to contact VDGIF within 15 days after purchasing a boat to register it. When a new owner fails to register a boat, Martin said it can take months of work to track down a previous owner before the current owner is found. If a boat has been sold multiple times without being registered, Martin said it can take longer.

There are some instance, Martin said, when owners don’t want to be found. Boats that are in disrepair, including houseboats, are almost impossible to sell, and it can cost thousands of dollars to have them removed from the lake. As the lake ages, so do many of the boats, and owners sometimes don’t want to deal with them.

“They not only become a hassle, they become a liability,” Martin said.

In 2006, an owner of a half-sunken houseboat was jailed when she did not remove it from the lake. Owners whose boats obstruct, contaminate or impede the enjoyment of the waterway can face up to a $2,500 fine and a year in prison.

Martin said the three owners of the sunken houseboat at channel marker R85 will face a combination of charges. He expects the boat to be raised in the next few weeks.

Removing boats from the water can be difficult without finding the owners, Martin said. VDGIF does not have the resources to fund the cost of raising or removing the boats.

Sea Tow — SML and the Smith Mountain Lake Marine Volunteer Fire Department often raise sunken boats throughout the year, but are wary of it without authorization from an owner.

During a recent Smith Mountain Lake Water Safety Council meeting, SMLVFD Chief John Honaker said if the department raised a sunken boat without knowing who the owner is, the department would assume responsibility and ownership of the boat, including the cost of its removal.

VDGIF, Martin said, currently is looking for a way to remove and store the boats until their owners can be found.