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Where Anchor Lights Are Required in The Florida Keys – It May Surprise You

I must admit to not knowing that even in Marathon’s Boot Key Harbor Mooring Field, display of a nighttime anchor light is required. Read on, and our Florida Keys correspondent, Captain Charmaine Smith Ladd, will explain why!

April 19, 2011

Where Anchor Lights are Required in the Keys – It May Surprise You!
by Charmaine Smith Ladd

Most cruisers feel well vamped on when it is required by law to display an anchor light. Ask and the answer will most often be, “It’s not necessary when in a designated anchorage at night.”

However, particularly in the Florida Keys, there is a lot of confusion as to what constitutes a “designated anchorage.” It has nothing to do with whether or not an area is designed for anchoring or commonly perceived as an anchorage within an established harbor, but everything to do with whether or not the placement of the anchorage is within Inland Waters or International Waters. Even those designations cannot be determined by what one’s commonsense may indicate.

One may surmise that Inland is within any Harbor. That would be an incorrect assumption, especially in the Florida Keys. Many a cruiser has been shocked when visited by Florida Fish & Wildlife (FWC) or the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and handed a ticket (usually around $70.00) for not displaying an anchor light when anchored in what was perceived as a “designated anchorage.” Like last night in Boot Key Harbor, where Law Enforcement was out and about issuing warnings and citations for anchor light violations.

“It’s a designated anchorage!” is the common protest, “One does not have to use an anchor light when in a designated anchorage, and I’m in one because I’m moored in a designated mooring field!” Surely this has been heard by many an Officer while enforcing the anchoring light regulation. Cruisers truly are serious when they protest, but ignorance of the Regulations is not an excuse. With that said, here’s the low down:

It is all about the acronym COLREGS and its demarcation lines. “COLREGS” stands for “Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions.” Basically, regulations put in place to prevent collisions of vessels. On charts it is usually seen in lower case, written as “Colregs.”

When in Inland Waters inside of the Colregs demarcation lines {shown on coastal charts as magenta colored dashed lines} a vessel does not have to display an anchor light from dusk until dawn if it is in a “Special Anchorage” (clearly marked on the chart as such). However, there are no “Special Anchorages” in International Waters (outside of the Colregs demarcation lines) International Rules clearly state an anchored vessel MUST display an approved anchor light from dusk until dawn while anchored or moored.

In the Florida Keys, heading southwest, the Colregs demarcation line crosses just prior to nearing waters of Lower Matecumbe Key. From there throughout the remainder of the Keys and beyond, a vessel is outside of the Colregs and therefore in International Waters: regulated to display an anchor light from dusk until dawn. Yes! This means that even while in the most protected anchorage area of the Keys, Marathon’s famous Boot Key Harbor, whether on a mooring ball or at anchor . . . one must display a USCG approved anchor light in order to be in compliance with Regulations.

To some it seems silly. However, regulations are regulations. Once it is understood that a “designated anchorage” is deemed by its placement strictly in reference to Colregs demarcation lines on the charts, rather than being simply viewed as “any common inland place of anchorage,” it begins to make sense. When in the Keys, look for the Colregs on your charts and see where you are in relation. It will show whether or not an anchor light is required when anchoring at night.

This writer hopes to add clarity to this issue and help prevent others who come down to the Keys thinking the displaying of an anchor light in Boot Key Harbor is debatable or voluntary. It is not. It is mandatory and enforced as per the Colregs. When outside the Colregs demarcation lines, please make sure your vessel is shining from dusk ’til dawn with an approved USCG approved anchor light (white light visible up to 2 miles in all directions).

Besides, enjoying a nice dinner for two with the $70.00 saved from not receiving a ticket of violation leaves no bitter aftertaste! LOL

For more information on this topic, consult USCG Regulations.

Charmaine Smith Ladd, s/v September Sea
SSECN Correspondent for the Florida Keys
“Bringing You the Low Down from Down Low!”

And, from a fellow cruiser:

In addition, the USCG has issued an “Interpretive Rule” (33 CFR 90.5) which states that “A vessel at anchor includes a vessel made fast to one or more mooring buoys or other similar devices attached to the ocean floor. Such vessels may be lighted as a vessel at anchor in accordance with Rule 30, or may be lighted on the corners in accordance with 33 CFR 88.13.”
I’m not aware of an exemption from displaying anchor lights in Inland Waters. I’ve been unable to find any reference to such in my copy of COLREGS.
Sorry, I could have been clearer.
I should have written, “I’m not aware of an exemption from displaying anchor lights STRICTLY BECAUSE ONE IS in Inland Waters.” Of course, there are “Special Anchorage” areas, but in my experience they’re very rare, and are clearly outlined on the charts and the CFR’s.
Let me try again. Unless you see a clear outlined area on your chart about a “Special Anchorage,” with a reference to the CFR number authorizing it, you need to show a USCG approved anchor light (not a solar-powered porch light), whether anchored or on a mooring.
Larry Shick

And, Captain Charmaine responds:

Very true, Larry. It was not my intention to be unclear and give the impression that as long as one is in Inland Waters no anchor light is required. A practice such as that certainly would not help prevent collisions at sea.
Rather that such “Special Anchorages” are found in U.S. Inland Waters, not International Waters – and clearly marked on the charts. To many a cruiser, a Harbor with anchorage is a ’special anchorage.’ Your comment is perfect to bring the entire point to light that a designated or special anchorage is not what we may think it is, but what the charts dictate it is. Many thanks!
Charmaine Smith Ladd, s/v September Sea
SSECN Correspondent for the Florida Keys
“Bringing You the Low Down from Down Low!”

I believe the above article is inaccurate and confusing. Captain Charmaine seems to use the terms “designated anchorage” and “Special Anchorage” interchangeably, as if they meant the same. They do not. And she states that designated anchorages do not exist outside the COLREGS lines. They do.
A designated anchorage is simply an attempt to establish order in a area where vessels are likely to anchor, or to safely anchor dangerous cargoes. Many designated anchorages exist along the east coast outside major ports like Beaufort, Charleston, Jacksonville, Port Everglages, Miami, etc. All of these are outside the COLREGS lines, and all require anchor lights.
Special Anchorages do not require anchor lights. Special Anchorages are all inside the COLREGS lines simply because the federal government has no authority to alter the International COLREGS rules. As Larry Shick points out, Special Anchorages are very rare. They are listed in the Coast Pilot Chapter 2 and clearly labeled on charts. There are only six Special Anchorages from Cape Henry, VA, to Key West, FL. It is very unlikely that the average boater will ever anchor in a Special Anchorage.
The fact that the USCG only occasionally enforces anchor lights adds to the confusion and misconception.
Bottom line: Show an anchor light whenever you anchor or moor.
Bruce Marschall

Thank you for your comments, Bruce.
I agree it is all quite confusing. My article was not meant to add further confusion but to hone in on the ever asked question as to why boats in Boot Key Harbor are required to display an anchor light — as some see it as being a “designated anchorage” and assume no anchor light is required when moored.
Thus my conclusion in the article:
“This writer hopes to add clarity to this issue and help prevent others who come down to the Keys thinking the displaying of an anchor light in Boot Key Harbor is debatable or voluntary. It is not. It is mandatory and enforced as per the Colregs. When outside the Colregs demarcation lines, please make sure your vessel is shining from dusk ’til dawn with an approved USCG approved anchor light (white light visible up to 2 miles in all directions).”
I do hope that much of my article is crystal clear, as that is the intent of the article. With that said, if you feel otherwise, please let me know. I certainly do not want to mislead or confuse, but the parameters of my article were more akin to the problems we have in the Keys and BKH regarding the requirement of having an anchor light on whether in the mooring field or anchored within the boundaries of the Harbor. That has caused considerable confusion down here (and the shock of a ticket to those who thought it was okay to not display their anchor light).
Many thanks for your comments. No doubt I have much more to learn on this subject as a whole.

Change your anchor light to an LED light which draws less than 20% of what your incandescent lamp does and makes it a non issue to turn on the anchor light at dusk as the load on the battery bank is now so small…
Marinebeam dot com has an excellent selection of high quality LED lamps that do not put noise in your VHF radio… I have not used the Dr Led bulbs so I cannot comment there…
Dennis O’Connor

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