Are Maryland’s Proposed New Boat Registration Fees Too Much?

Maryland is considering raising its boat registration fees by at least 100 percent for all boats. Is this too much or should Maryland boaters consider themselves lucky for not having seen an increase in fees for nearly 30 years?

A state proposal to raise boat registration fees for the first time in nearly three decades has dismayed many boat owners.

A bill filed last week in Annapolis would replace the flat $24 boat registration fee paid every two years with fees ranging from $50 to $700, depending on the size of the boat. The increases would be phased in over four years, beginning in October, for Maryland’s 191,000 registered boat owners.

“What’s the benefit? Or is it just one more way to raise revenue for the state? No wonder people move out of Maryland,” said Jesse Buckwalter, who keeps his 25-foot sport fishing boat in the driveway of his home in the Eastport section of Annapolis. “It seems exorbitant.”The money would go to replenish the state’s Waterway Improvement Fund and pay for maritime safety efforts.

The measure is the latest proposed fee increase by the O’Malley administration as the state looks to make up for lost revenue and maintain services in a weak economy. Other controversial proposals include the governor’s plan to increase the so-called “flush tax” on water use to pay for sewage treatment improvements and to extend the state’s six percent sales tax to gasoline.

The state last attempted to increase boat registration fees in 2007, but the proposal died in committee.

“We’re not doing this to create something new; we’re doing this so that we can maintain what we have,” said Bob Gaudette, director of the Department of Natural Resources boating services, citing the need to keep channels and boat ramps safe and reliable.

Under the plan, the registration for a boat under 16 feet would rise to $50 every two years by 2016. Registering a boat from 16 feet to 32 feet — the most popular size in Maryland — would cost $125. Vessels 32 feet to 45 feet would cost $250. Vessels 45 feet to 65 feet would cost $500. The registration fee for the approximately 52 yachts over 65 feet would be $700. All of the new fees would be paid every two years.

Graduated registration fees based on boat size are used in a number of states, including Virginia, Delaware and New Jersey.

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