How to Navigate a Boat in Marine Protected Areas.

How to Navigate a Boat in Marine Protected Areas

Written by Diane Byrne
March 14, 2023

Last Updated on March 14, 2023 by Boatsetter Team

Quick show of hands: How many of you have cruised the Florida Keys? How about California’s Monterey Bay, Washington’s Olympic Coast, Michigan’s portion of the Great Lakes, or even the U.S. Virgin Islands? Congratulations, you’ve likely explored one of our many marine protected areas without realizing it! With this post on navigating a boat in marine-protected areas, we’ll boost your awareness of the best boating practices. But first, what exactly is a marine protected area?

It’s a safeguarded area with a marine element, whether oceans or great lakes. Protected marine areas can be:

  • National marine sanctuaries
  • National marine monuments
  • National wildlife refuges
  • State parks
  • Natural preserves and sanctuaries

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1. Keep our waters clean

Keeping our waters clean.

Don’t discharge sewage or toss anything overboard! Dedicated shore pump-out facilities are conveniently on hand in some sanctuaries. Be mindful when you’re enjoying snacks onboard as well to ensure garbage doesn’t enter the water.

Speaking of garbage, pluck floating plastic from the water if you see it. Wildlife often either mistake plastic for food or get entangled in it. Either way, the results can be devastating, leading to poisoning or death.

2. Proceed properly

Navigate slowly near sensitive habitats like nesting areas and while close to shore. Wakes can destroy nests and further erode delicate ecosystems. Pay attention to speed limits, especially where motorized vessels are permitted to be. If you enjoy fishing, only wet your line where permitted, and double-check whether you need a license before heading out.

3. Observe, don’t touch wildlife

Observing wildlife from a boat.

Sea birds, mammals, and other ocean life are incredible to see. But, do it from a distance—for their safety and yours. It’s illegal in some areas to touch marine life, purposely to preserve them. Step lightly when walking amid tide pools and along shore habitats, too.

4. Respect “no-take” zones

Some marine protected areas are fully protected, often called “no-take” reserves. While you’re permitted to visit them, you’re prohibited from removing anything. So, as much as coral and some rocks are cool-looking, leave them in place.

Remember, our goal is to conserve the waters, wildlife, and maritime heritage. They stretch from Washington State to Maryland and Lake Michigan to the Gulf Coast. Notably, research reveals that marine protected areas effectively increase the abundance and diversity of marine life within their boundaries.

Being protected doesn’t mean they’re off-limits, though. On the contrary, marine protected areas are absolutely for boaters—along with hikers, birders, and all outdoor enthusiasts—to enjoy. Some have shipwrecks for exploring, for instance. Others have coral reefs and migration routes. Federal, state, and local officials promote educational tours, boating trips (whether aboard your own or via a charter), and more to strike a balance between sustainably using coastal resources and preserving them for future generations. With that in mind, follow these tips to navigate your boat properly in marine-protected areas.

Recreational boating can do good for you and the planet. Make sure to check out more green boating resources and browse through our fleet of electric boat rentals.

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