Tour Boat Continues To Be Focus Of Controversy

by Tim Wood

CHATHAM -- To Paul Avellar, it's clear that he was the target of proposed regulations governing commercial use of town landings and other municipal waterfront facilities.

Paul Avellar
Paul Avellar, owner of controversial tour boat.

"All the rules only put me out of business, nobody else," Avellar told members of the Waterways Committee and Stage Harbor Management Plan Implementation Committee during a joint meeting Monday afternoon.

At issue is the 53-foot boat Avellar purchased for his Beachcomber water and education tour business, which he planned to moor in Stage Harbor and take on and discharge passengers at the town-owned Old Mill Boatyard. However, under the proposed regulations, boats taking on passengers for hire at Old Mill Boatyard would be limited to 35 feet, and the number of passengers carried at one time restricted to 25 people. Avellar's boat can hold up to 80 passengers.

Avellar said the boat, dubbed "Sea Bus," weighs approximately the same as a 35-foot sailboat, which would not be prohibited from using the Old Mill Boatyard dock, and would therefore not put a strain on the infrastructure. The only uncertainty, he said, is whether his boat would block the facility's boat launching ramp while at the dock. If that's the case, he agreed that it would be impractical for him to use the facility. But if the boat doesn't preclude use of the ramp, he questioned why he was being singled out after running four smaller boats out of the facility last year -- carrying about the same total number of passengers -- with no complaints, and why nobody bothered to find out if his boat could operate at the facility before proposing the regulations.

"It's hard for me to accept that nobody said let's work this out first," Avellar said. "What's the problem?"

"You're the one who pushed the envelop," responded Waterways Committee chairman Bruce Colvin.

The situation has clearly frustrated Avellar, a Chatham native who gave up commercial fishing to start the seal, harbor and educational tour business several years ago. He said he's trying to make the business viable year-round, by hosting eco-tours and educations institutes. Avellar and his wife, Paula St. Pierre, have contacted an attorney and are also exploring other options, such as using private property or ferrying passengers to the vessel. The latter option may not be practical, however, due to liability concerns.

While many in the packed Annex meeting room supported Avellar, others, including two Stage Harbor homeowners who have hired an attorney to represent them, felt limits should be placed on the commercial use of town-owned waterfront facilities.

The proposed regulations, drawn up by Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon and Harbormaster Stuart Smith, are directed at controlling commercial activity at town landings and other waterfront facilities, such as Old Mill Boatyard. They require a special use permit for commercial uses, including charter and passenger vessels as well as the rental of watercraft at town landings. Conditions include harbormaster approval, insurance, and a requirement that passengers park off-site.

Both committees planned to have separate meetings to discuss the proposed regulations and make recommendations to the Board of Selectmen. The Waterways Committee meets again on Feb. 7, and the Stage Harbor group on Feb. 9.

To read the complete set of proposed town waterfront facility regulations, click here.

The following are the draft regulations governing the commercial use of town landings and other town-owned water-related properties now being considered by the Chatham Board of Selectmen.

Town of Chatham Regulations for Town Landings, Landing Places, and other Town-owned Water Dependent Properties

[Wording in parenthesis represent changes from current regulations]

The following regulations for Town Landings, Landing Places, and all other water-dependent properties have been adopted by the Board of Selectmen under the authority granted by Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 88 Section 19. These rules and regulations are not applicable to the Chatham Municipal Fish Pier.

I . "Town Landing," "Landing Place," and Town-owned Water Dependent Properties are used interchangeably.

2. Town Landings are to be used primarily for the customary marine purposes of picking up and/or discharging passengers and cargo associated with recreational or commercial boating or commercial fishing, and as a means of public access to Commonwealth Tidelands.

3. Except for the transfer of commercial fishing catch, no one may transact business or engage in a commercial venture at Town Landings except as specifically allowed in these regulations. Expressly forbidden are the placement of advertising, or advertising the location of a business as being at a Town Landing, the offering of goods or services, and the exchange of goods or money in a business transaction, with the exception of a commercial fishing catch, at a Town Landing.

4. Commercial enterprises such as charter fishing, boat ferry or livery services, tour boats, or other activities which require the use of Town Landings and the associated Town-owned ramps, docks and floats to launch their vessels, or to pick up and/or discharge passengers for hire, must first obtain the appropriate town landing special use permit approved by the Board of Selectmen, or their designated agent. In order to ensure public safety and avoid excessive congestion and overuse of Town Landings, these permits will be limited in number and subject to specific conditions.

5. Dogs, cats, horses and other livestock or pets at Town Landings must be restrained in compliance with existing Town leash laws, where applicable. Animal waste must be removed.

6. All marked roadways, lanes, boat ramps, emergency vehicle lanes, and other primary access ways to the water shall be kept open and free of parked vehicles, trailers and vessels at all times. Any blocking vehicle, trailer, or vessel may be towed at the owner's expense, or subject to fine, or both.

7. No parking spaces shall be reserved or assigned except as they may be so marked by the Town. All parking spaces shall be available on a first come/first served basis, and are for the sole use of motor vehicles parking in conjunction with the intended use of the facility.

8. Boat storage, maintenance, and repairs is prohibited on the parking areas of any Town landing without the permission of the Harbormaster or Assistant Harbormaster.

9. No vehicles are permitted to travel or remain off the established ways or parking areas of Town Landings, with the exception of emergency vehicles and of vehicles used for the active launching or retrieval of vessels. No bus, or other passenger conveyance vehicle with a seating capacity greater than 30 may either load or unload passengers within the established ways or parking areas as may be located at a Town Landing.

10. The deposit of rubbish and/or the removal of sand, bushes or other growth is prohibited except by the express permission of the Board and the Conservation Commission.

11. The use of all Town Landings is forbidden during the hours from 10:00 p.m. until

5:00 a.m., with the exception that the Town Landings at the foot of Barcliff Avenue at Aunt Lydia's Cove, Oyster River, Ryder's Cove, Mitchell River, Old Mill Boat Yard, Claflin Landing, Crows Pond, and Oyster Pond Furlong shall be open at all times to commercial or sports fishermen for the parking of their vehicles in connection with their fishing operations.

12. A violation of these regulations may result in ejection from the premises and/or a noncriminal fine of $20 for each violation.

Certain of these regulations may be suspended from time to time by vote of the Board.

The invalidity of any section or provision of these regulations shall not invalidate any other section or provision thereof.

Town of Chatham

Town Landing Special Use Permit

Types of Permits:

Class A: Charter and passenger vessels duly licensed to carry up to six (6) passengers for hire.

Class B: Charter and passenger vessels duly licensed to carry seven (7) or more passengers for hire.

Class C: Watercraft for rent such as canoes, kayaks, sailboats or sailboards, etc. which are delivered to, and then launched at Town Landings.


All Town Landing Special Use permits will be annual with an expiration date of April 30 for each calendar year. Fees are not prorated based on when the permit is issued.


In order for a Special Use permit to be issued, the Board of Selectmen, or their designated agent, will review each permit request to ensure that the following conditions are met by the permittee. In addition to the Board of Selectmen, or their agent, the permit may be reviewed by other Town departments for recommendation to the Board of Selectmen.

Harbormaster Approval-The permittee must obtain approval from the Harbormaster that the activity conforms to applicable Town regulations governing the use of Town Docks, Piers, Wharfs, Floats, and Bulkheads. Specifically, the Harbormaster will review whether the Town-owned berthing facilities and infrastructure, as may be located at the Town Landing, are appropriate to support the size, type, and frequency of use of the vessel(s) in question. In addition, the Harbormaster, in the interest of public safety, shall review the proposed commercial venture and confirm whether the activity confirms to local and State waterways laws and regulations, and whether or not the activity will place any undue burden on existing marine uses and activities of the surrounding waterways.

Vessel and Captain Licenses-The permittee must show evidence that the vessel complies with all appropriate U.S. Coast Guard regulations, and that the captain of the vessel has the proper licenses to operate the vessel in the manner intended.

Insurance-The permittee must carry and cover a full in force liability insurance policy of not less than five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000) and shall hold harmless and indemnify the Town of Chatham against any and all claims pertaining to the operations relevant to embarking/disembarking passengers from the Town Landing and associated Town-owned structures.

Parking-It is the responsibility of the permittee to provide offsite parking as well as transportation to and from the offsite location for all passengers utilizing the commercial activity. The Permittee shall submit a parking plan which will detail how and where the parking and transportation will be accomplished.

Livery Licenses-If a van, bus, or similar vehicle is required to shuttle passengers to and from the offsite parking location, then the vehicle must be inspected and licensed to carry passengers, and the operator must possess a valid and appropriate license to operate the vehicle. In addition, any vehicle used to transport patrons of the commercial enterprise must be licensed by the Town pursuant to MGL Chapter 40, Section 22

Mooring-The owner of the vessel which utilizes the Town Landing and associated docks, floats or bulkheads in order to pick-up and/or discharge passengers must have an appropriate mooring location approved by the Harbormaster if the vessel remains in the water and is not launched at a ramp.

Other Conditions-Depending on the specific nature of the proposed commercial operation, the Board of Selectmen, or their agent, may impose additional conditions as may be necessary or deemed appropriate to provide additional assurance that public safety, and/or the public's interest is best served by this permit.


  • Class A: $XX
  • Class B: $XXX
  • Class C: $XXX

Violation: Commercial enterprises which are found to be operating out of a Town Landing or other Town-owned property without the requisite permits and approvals will be required to cease operations until such permits are obtained, and they may be subject to a $XX fine.

Town of Chatham

Regulations for Town Docks, Piers, Wharfs, Floats and Bulkheads

The following regulations for use of Town Docks, Piers, Wharfs, Floats and Bulkheads, associated with Town Landings and other Town-owned property located in the tidewaters of the Commonwealth have been adopted by the Harbormaster under the authority granted by Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 91, Section 1OC, and pursuant to Chapter 35, Sections 35001(b), and 35007 of the Town of Chatham Waterways Bylaws.

1. Maximum size (overall length) of recreational or commercial fishing vessels which may temporarily tie up, or be secured at a Town dock or float for the purposes of loading and unloading fishing catch, cargo, or persons are listed below. These maximum limitations assume infrequent usage, and normal weather and tidal current conditions. Vessels in excess of the size limitation must receive approval of the Harbormaster or Assistant Harbormaster prior to securing to a Town dock or float.

  • Chatham Municipal Fish Pier Float: 31 feet
  • Ryders Cove Float: 36 feet
  • Old Mill Boat Yard: 44 feet
  • Barn Hill Landing Float: 31 feet
  • Little Mill Pond Float: 26 feet

2. For vessels which provide a livery service or otherwise carry passengers for hire, the maximum vessel size (overall length) which can tie up or otherwise berth, at a Town dock or float for the purpose of loading and/or unloading passengers is 35 feet. The maximum number of passengers which a passenger vessel can at one time carry and utilize a Town dock or float is 25.

3. No vessel may tie up at a Town float for greater than fifteen (15) minutes without the expressed permission of the Harbormaster, or Assistant Harbormaster. Red Zones and Yellow Zones which may be so designated at a Town float are defined as follows: Red Zone: Tie up limit 15 minutes. Yellow Zone: Load and unload area only, no unattended vessel.

4. In the interest of public safety, listed below are the maximum number of persons who may remain on a Town float at the same time:

  • Chatham Municipal Fish Pier: 15
  • Ryder's Cove: 8
  • Old Mill Boat Yard: 15
  • Barn Hill Landing: 8
  • Little Mill Pond: 8

5. No dinghies may be secured to town docks or floats without the permission of the Harbormaster, or Assistant Harbormaster.

6. No vessel may tie to, or be secured in any way to a Town-owned vessel while it is berthed.

7. No personal items, cargo, fishing catch, or other private gear or boat equipment shall be left on or at a Town dock, float or bulkhead any longer than is reasonably necessary to transfer said items to and from the boat or vehicle.

8. The discharge, disposal, or dumping of oil, dead fish, fish parts, rubbish, refuse, or debris onto the dock, float, bulkhead or in the tidewaters or shores of the Town of Chatham is strictly forbidden. Violators will be prosecuted in accordance with all applicable Town, State and Federal laws.

9. There shall be no scaling, or cleaning of fish or shellfish at any Town dock, float or bulkhead.

10. No vessel may be secured to a Town dock, float or bulkhead in a manner which interferes with the use of, or launching of a vessel at a Town ramp.

11. Vessels requiring the use of Town operated marine sanitation pump-out facilities must contact the Harbormaster's Office to arrange a mutually convenient time to receive the pump-out service. Contact can be made by phone at (508) 945-5185 or 5186, or by marine radio using VHF channel 16 or 66.

12. The Town shall not be held responsible for any loss or damage to boats or vessels at the Town dock, float or bulkhead. Vessel owners will be held responsible for damage caused by them or their vessels to structures, pilings, and related facilities owned by the Town.

13. The fueling of vessels at a Town facility will comply with all Federal, State, and local laws and regulations.

The above regulations notwithstanding, in the interests of public safety the Harbormaster and Assistant Harbormaster are duly empowered to address situations as they arise at all Town docks, floats and bulkheads.

By the Order of the Harbormaster Town of Chatham