Tisbury charts course for floating workshops

Joint meeting of harbor management and planning committees also boosts anchoring days from three to seven.  

The Rascal at Prime Marine in Lagoon Pond. Owner Rick Brown said its a catamaran, Tisbury calls it a "floating workshop". — Rich Saltzberg

Tisbury waterways and harbor planning committee debated regulatory changes to houseboats, liveaboards, and floating workshops Wednesday evening during a special joint session in the Katharine Cornell Theater. The harbor management committee ultimately voted to recommend to the selectmen a 10-page statement of proposed harbor regulation changes the waterways and harbor planning committee drafted through consultation with the Urban Harbors Institute.
“From my point of view, I think the statement that you guys have proposed is accurate and appropriate,” harbor management committee member Matt Hobart said.
The statement covered the regulation of houseboats, liveaboards, floating workshops, and aquaculture.
Rick Brown’s Rascal at Prime Marine in Lagoon Pond would fall under the category of a floating workshop. Brown told The Times he is flabbergasted by Tisbury’s mercurial behavior toward what he emphasizes is a vessel. Brown said he got approval for the Rascal from several town boards after he lost his workspace and could not secure another. After it was allowed, he said, the town and at least one business owner took issue with the Rascal.
Brown said while former selectman Larry Gomez has come aboard to look inside the Rascal, Tristan Israel, chairman of both the selectmen and the waterways committee, has “flatly refused” to come aboard.
“Had I gone in there and it looked lovely, that doesn’t change what it is,” Israel said.
Brown said he’s mystified at having a floating workshop classification when Tisbury charges him boat excise tax. Technically the Rascal is a catamaran, he said. He uses the Rascal for boatbuilding and cabinetwork, he said, and also has it rigged to haul moorings. He does not see why it’s any different from a crane barge or a mooring barge, or even a lobster boat, all of which can be found in Tisbury waters. He also said Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard owner Phil Hale, whom he used to do work for, will not come aboard. He believes Hale is irked because the Rascal does not pay real estate taxes, yet is used for workspace.
Hale, who sits on the waterways committee, refuted Brown’s statement about taxes and coming aboard. He said he was aboard the Rascal as it was being built. Hale said Brown was a friend, but added, “I don’t think we need houseboats and floating workshops.”
He also said he didn’t believe the business Brown conducts in the Rascal was water-dependent, and questioned whether the Rascal was an active vessel.
Harbormaster John Crocker declined to comment on regulations regarding floating business, but spoke highly of Brown. “He’s a class act. I don’t have anything negative to say about him,” Crocker said.
Israel said the regulations recommended to the selectmen would not affect Brown, as they won’t be retroactive.
Overall, he said, he was pleased with the the work his committee and Urban Harbors Institute did to arrive at the statement presented Wednesday night. “I think it’s been a very successful effort,” he said.
The proposed rules governing floating workshops are as follows:

  • All applications for workshop or floating business must be a water-dependent use to be considered.
  • Any person or business desiring a Tisbury Waterways Use Permit shall apply in writing to the board of selectmen, who shall immediately transmit the application to the harbor management committee for a recommendation. In the case of permits to operate ferry service, the application must specify with particularity the proposed schedule and the equipment to be used.
  • The harbor management committee shall make a recommendation within 21 days of transmittal.
  • If the committee fails to make a recommendation to the selectmen on an application for a Harbor Use Permit within 90 days, the selectmen will proceed without the recommendation by the committee.
  • The board of selectmen shall then hold a public hearing within 30 days of receipt of application to invite comment on the permit application, and shall carefully consider the impact of the proposed use or activities in light of the purposes of this section.
  • If the board of selectmen determines that the proposed use or activity is consistent with the purpose of this regulation, the permit shall be granted subject to such conditions and time limitations as the selectmen in their discretion may grant, and such permit shall be valid for as long as the permitted use or activity is carried on by the permit holder.


The Harbor Management Committee also voted to change the permissible number of days a vessel can anchor in Tisbury waters from three to seven days before the vessel must re-anchor. The vessel must remain active, which the committee defined as having a person aboard at least once every 24 hours, or have a harbormaster-approved agent look after the vessel.

Harbor management committee member Jeff Canha abstained from the final vote on recommendations to the selectmen because he owns and lives on Tisbury’s only houseboat.

Israel said he expects the selectmen to review the regulatory suggestions in September, and will hold a hearing on them.