SAUSALITO — Authorities are cracking down on small boats that have anchored off Sausalito, where the number of vessels that sit motionless away from shore has doubled over the last year amid a housing crisis in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Sausalito police over the weekend began placing bright orange warning stickers on the decks of dozens of small "anchor-out" vessels bobbing in Richardson Bay. They warn that police may remove any vessel left in city water for 72 hours, the San Francisco Chronicle reported .

About 250 boats in the water off Sausalito belong to people who appear to be living on the vessels but are unwilling or unable to pay $1,000 or more per month to tie up at a marina berth, the newspaper reported.

"The boats just sit there, like a giant parking lot," said Sausalito Police Officer Brian Mather. "More like a giant junkyard."

Lt. William Fraass said reports of thefts and other problems have increased along with the number of vessels.

Longtime anchor-outer Alden Bevington says he was evicted from his 33-foot (10-meter) yawl, Sanctuary, about a month ago and the vessel was hauled off by the city and destroyed.

"This is a social issue, not a law enforcement issue," Bevington said. "This is a problem of the economy. Richardson Bay is one of the last places where people can drop an anchor and stay."

Bevington acknowledged that some of his fellow boaters are broke but being down and out isn't a crime, he said, on land or on the water.

Sausalito Mayor Joan Cox said the city did "not want to go out and seize boats, (but) this is a public health and safety issue."

Boaters who rent slips at high-end Sausalito marinas complain that many of the boaters paddle ashore in kayaks and rowboats to use the marina restrooms. But not everyone.

"The main problem is the lack of toilets," said Harbormaster Mike Rainey.

"In theory, they're supposed to have their toilets pumped out," he added. "I've never seen a pump-out boat going out to service the vessels."

Kirk Morrison and his friend Nick Masturzo pay about $700 a month to berth their 21-foot (6-meter) motorboat at Schoonmaker Point. They wave at their fellow sailors on the anchor-outs, but they're not particularly happy about subsidizing them.

"It's a free-for-all out there," Morrison said. "It's a problem. It's like trying to solve the homeless problem in San Francisco. I don't know what the solution is."

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Information from: San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com