Can You Dock Your Boat Anywhere (Legally!?)

Owning a boat comes with the burden of finding the perfect location to dock it and also maintain it in periodic intervals. In either case, it’s vital to know the legality associated with docking your boat. Otherwise, your boat may be in trouble. So, can you dock your boat anywhere?

It’s illegal to dock your boat at a random location. Possessing a slip or requesting prior permission at the docking location is required to dock the boat. Unlike other vehicles like a car that can be parked anywhere, boats need secured places, and every state has a specific rule on the docking location. 

In this article, let’s look at legal locations to dock a boat along with other doubts relating to docking a boat to add ease to the process. 

Legal Locations To Dock A Boat 

If you wish to dock your boat, remember that you can’t do it anywhere. Depending on the state or country you live in, there are laws associated with mooring or docking your boat. 

If you’re looking for a legal location to dock a boat, here are a few options – a boat ramp, paid docking station, marina, and private property with prior permission from the owner. 

Prior to docking the boat, it’s a rule of thumb to go through zoning laws. These laws explain ideal and legal locations to dock your boat. For instance, residential areas aren’t recommended for docking a boat. 

You should also assess if the docking place falls within the sensitive wildlife habitat. If so, avoid docking your boat, or the environmental authority of the state can impose serious penalties for your illegal activity. 

What if you’re around the private property? Take the owner’s permission and find a suitable bay to dock your boat. 

Note: Carry a written statement of permission to remain on the safe side. 

Here’s a table containing the rules associated with various states in the United States on docking a boat. 

StateStand on Docking A Boat
FloridaOnly specific locations as prescribed by Florida state department. Rules on anchoring/mooring, the size of the boat, and the type of location are mentioned. 
AlabamaDry docking is restricted to public locations. 
CaliforniaCalifornia State Parks allow docking a boat only with a supporting boat slip.
GeorgiaDocking only at permitted locations is encouraged. Prior authorization and permit documents are needed to dock at ease.
New YorkThere are transient docking locations across various NYC parks. Docking a boat at a random location is prohibited.
OhioThe State of Ohio permits docking a boat anywhere within assigned marinas.

What’s it with other countries? What are their thoughts about docking a boat?

  • Mooring alongside the canal in the United Kingdom is permitted with the advantage of no fee. However, docking needs a relevant permit. 
  • Docking the boat in Australia comes with a host of rules and regulations with respect to location, type of boat, duration, and living in the location. In most cases, docking and living on a boat for the long term isn’t permitted.
  • Similar to other countries, Europe has also imposed restrictions on docking a boat in relevant locations. 

Factors To Consider When Choosing A Docking Location

If you’re new to docking your boat in a new location, here are a few factors to consider:


As long as you dock your boat at the chosen location, it’s essential to ensure access to necessary amenities such as a fuel station, water, sanitation, and electricity. There are secondary amenities such as dock carts, private lockers, recycling options, cleaning supplies, and laundry facilities. Some locations might not have access to one or more of these and then land you in trouble. 


Docking a boat at a specific location can cost anywhere between $800 and $2,000 per year, depending on factors like sailboat type, season, duration, location, and other amenities requested. Perhaps, if you’re docking at a private property (after taking the owner’s permission), the cost can be lower. 

Environmental conditions

You should know the background of the water current before you make your decision to dock the boat. For instance, some docking locations are susceptible to fluctuating water currents and need more safety measures to protect your boat. Analyze weather conditions at the location for the next few days/weeks to determine if the region can be appropriate for your sailboat. This precheck saves you time, money, and effort. 

As a rule of thumb, the bottom of the docking area influences your decision. If it’s a seabed or a rock that doesn’t secure your boat effectively, you should skip it. 

Nature of dock

This is an underestimated factor by most sailboat owners. It’s essential to decide if a dry dock or a wet dock is preferred. A dry dock costs less than a wet dock but is less convenient as well. With a wet dock in place, it’s easier to climb aboard and go ahead with your next plan. 

Support from the marina operator

Docking a boat needs proper support from marina operators. Even when you’re in trouble, these marina operators can offer guidance from technical and operational perspectives. Most importantly, a knowledgeable marina operator or owner can enhance the experience of docking your boat. 

In addition to these factors, you should also pay attention to local destinations, security, and convenience to maximize the ease of docking your boat. Owning a sailboat is an asset, and exercising care with an extra degree of research can extend the life of the boat.

Mooring vs. Anchoring vs. Docking

Stopping your boat in a beautiful location is very common. However, the first thing that comes to your mind when you decide to stop, is where to dock it safely. Is docking the same as mooring and anchoring?

Docking a boat implies leaving a vessel parallel to a dock and using various dock lines to tighten the boat to the dock. Mooring slightly differs from docking in securing the boat to a specific object like a mooring ball, while anchoring encourages boaters to drop a heavy object in the water and then use suction to tighten the boat with hooks. 

While these three concepts focus on securing a boat, there are laws differentiating their appropriateness and use in a specific location. As a boater, you should also know their differences to make an appropriate decision. 

Anchoring is easier since all you will need is an anchor cable to connect to the anchoring station. As most boats are equipped with two anchors, you should know how they work. If you’ve decided to anchor your boat, check the state’s laws and assess the current condition. Sometimes, water currents can affect the ease associated with anchoring your boat. 

Mooring a boat is comparatively easier and is similar to docking. However, prior permission is required to moor a boat to a jetty, buoy, dock, or pier. If you’ve taken a dock space already, you have a dedicated docking walkway to moor your boat. 

What if you’re taking a long break? It would be best if you docked your boat with fenders to secure your sailboat to the dock. It’s crucial to store these supplies inside the boat’s storage area. 


Do You Have To Pay To Dock A Boat

Docking a boat involves a flat fee of 800-2,000 USD a year and a slip-rent charge of 300-1,500 USD. In other words, dock slips are charged on a boat length and width basis, where one foot costs 12-250 USD a year. 

If you have a large boat, you’re expected to pay higher than usual prices. The majority of marinas spread across the countries charge by foot and go with yearly charges. However, if you’re choosing public docks, prices can be daily. Likewise, if you prefer a docking station for the long run, most marinas permit negotiations and also offer adequate amenities to enhance relationships. 

Where Is It Legal To Tie Up Boat If Not Docked

When your boat isn’t docked, it’s legal to tie it up to a mooring ball. Remember that you can attach your boat to the ball using chains. However, tying your boat to hazard, lighted, and information buoys isn’t permitted as these buoys are meant for other purposes. 

Some boaters might experience an urgent need to tie up a boat legally. In such cases, it’s easy to find a mooring buoy around with its stripe (in orange) floating on water. 

As a word of caution, we wouldn’t recommend you to moor your boat anywhere without knowing the local laws. Beware of control buoys! 

Final Thoughts

Docking a boat is a key requirement for most boaters out there. While it’s known that docking stations like marinas are specific places to legally dock the boat, some boaters take marinas and private properties for granted. From the legal perspective, most states in the United States and other countries impose specific restrictions on legal locations to dock your boat. 

Understand your need, do extensive research about amenities offered by the docking area, hold your supplies tight, and then dock your boat legally! Cheers!


Boatlifehq owner and author/editor of this article.

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