Where is it Legal to Tie Up Your Boat? [The Rules]

where is it legal to tie up your boat

Maybe you've found the perfect fishing spot, or you're just about ready to set up lunch after a day of boating. But the anchor on board isn't a fit for the seabed beneath. Or worse, you've found yourself floating over delicate corals that could be destroyed by the weight of your anchor. What's a sailor to do? Well, if you can't drop your anchor and you need to keep your boat stationary, you could always just tie up.

While you might not know this, there are provisions out on the water that let boaters tie up their vessels even when they're away from the dock. Now exactly where is it legal to tie up your boat when you're not at the marina? Find the answers through this short article.

Where is it Legal to Tie Up a Boat When Not at the Dock?

The simple answer is mooring buoys. These buoys are much larger than the average buoy and feature an attached pick-up line that's used to tie a boat to the unit. The large marine buoy is tied at the bottom to keep it in place, and serves the purpose of letting boats and large ships moor.

Keep in mind that there are lots of different kinds of buoys on the water, and it can be a challenge to identify which one you can tie your boat to. See to it that the buoy you're looking to hook up to is white with a blue horizontal band. It is illegal to moor your vessel to buoys with red, orange, or other colored bands and symbols.

How to Use a Mooring Buoy

If you ever find it necessary to tie your boat to a mooring buoy while you're boating or fishing, it's imperative that you practice the necessary steps for safety. There's a lot more to the process than just simply picking up the line and tying it to your boat. Here's how to use a mooring buoy:

  1. Move forward and approach the mooring buoy with caution - there are loads of lines and chains under the surface. Position your boat down wind or down current so that the buoy's line is floating towards you. Make sure that the buoy is within your view at all times.
  2. Switch your boat into neutral and take the buoy's breast line with your boat hook. See to it that the line isn't directly attached to your boat.
  3. Then take your boat bowline and loop it through the buoy's pick-up line. Take both ends of your bow line and secure it to your bow cleat. Avoid tying the bowline to your stern cleat as this can damage your boat and put unnecessary tension on the buoy's pick-up line.
  4. See to it that you feed enough line so you can maintain a safe distance from the buoy. This also prevents applying too much pulling force on your cleat and on the buoy once you tie up your boat. If you're in rough water with a strong current, don't hesitate to let out more line than you typically would.
  5. Check to see if all the tied lines are secure. Make sure that there isn't any unwanted or potentially dangerous tension on any of the lines when you tie up your boat. If you notice that there's too much pull on either your bow line or the pick-up line, feed more length to ease the pressure.
  6. When you're ready to go, undo the knots on your stern cleats and thread the bow line back out of the pick-up line. Toss the pick-up line back towards the mooring buoy and slowly back away. There are loads of lines underneath the surface near a mooring buoy. Move slowly to avoid getting tangled.

Mooring Buoys and Other Markers

Keep in mind that you can only anchor your boat to mooring buoys that are color white with a single blue horizontal stripe. It's against the law to moor a boat or vessel up to any other color or lighted marker, since these markers serve a purpose to inform other vessels of the conditions at sea.

Tying your boat to it could conceal the lighted or colored buoy from others' perspective and thus make them unaware of the sea conditions around them. Here are other types of marine buoys that you should be aware of that are illegal to tie your boat to:

Regulatory Markers

There are lots of different kinds of non lateral regulatory markers, and they provide vital information to help boats safely navigate the waters. They symbols on these navigational markers are color orange.

Square markers give information like directions to the nearest docks. 

Circle markers indicate restrictions, like speed limits. 

Diamonds inform boaters of dangers under the surface, such as large rocks. 

And diamonds with a cross inside indicate a prohibited area.

Lateral Markers

These marine markers tell you where to pass relative to its placement in the water. The purpose is to make sure that traffic is regulated out on the waves so that all boats and ships can safely navigate safe water without crashing into one another

If you're entering open waters, the green marker should be on your starboard side. If you're entering a channel, the red marker should be on your starboard side.

Inland Water Obstruction Markers

Painted white and black vertical stripes, these non lateral marine markers indicate an obstruction deep under the water between it and the shore that could damage your boat if you approach. Never pass between this marker and the shore. Safe water would be on the other side of the marker.

Remember, you can't legally tie to any of the markers listed above. If you ever find yourself having to tether in the middle of the water, look for a mooring buoy colored white and bluish stripe. They can come in different shapes, but the colors should remain constant.

State vs Federal Laws on Mooring a Boat

Keep in mind that everything detailed here is a general explanation of the laws surrounding mooring buoys and their legal use. But regulations can change depending on the location you're in.

Although it should be legal to tie your boat to a mooring buoy without a fuss, it doesn't hurt to read up on local guidelines to make sure you're not breaking any rules in your specific area. Whether you're boating or fishing, see to it that you ask about local regulations to guide your mooring practice.

When Anchoring Isn't an Option

So where is it legal to tie up your boat when you're not at the dock? Mooring buoys should be your go to. Designed for the purpose of providing a tethering point while you're out boating or fishing, mooring buoys offer a safe mooring point for your boat when your anchor just can't be deployed.

Just make sure you read the local laws and guidelines to ensure you're not stepping on any local regulations.

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