How many mooring buoys?

We were anchored in Port Madison a few evenings ago. We’ve been here many times. When we kept the boat on Lake Union, Port Madison was often our last stop on the way home. One of the things I notice is that there is very little room for anchoring compared to years ago when we first started coming here. There are mooring buoys everywhere. I find it hard to believe all of these buoys are legally placed and permitted.

Update 6.21.19: Received a nice response from the DNR. Will post more shortly.

Robert at Windbourne in Puget Sound posted additional information regarding my post. You can find it here.

Update 6.14.19: Later this afternoon … I received a response from the right resource at the DNR stating they would respond to my inquiry next week.

Earlier this morning … No response to my second email. I sent a third email to the DNR’s aquatic resources devision’s general email address ([email protected]). Waiting …

Update 6.6.19: It has been a week since I emailed the folks at the DNR ([email protected]). So far no response. I resent the note. Will see if I get a response …

I cobbled together a few images from Google Maps and placed a marker on all the mooring buoys I could find. A high res version is here. It may not be exact, but it is close enough for my purposes. Where did all these buoys come from? How can all of these buoys be legally permitted? How many is too many?

Here is the official information on mooring buoys from the Washington State DNR. And here is a link the DNR’s mooring buoy brochure.

The requirements for placing a mooring buoy according the the DNR.

  • The applicant owns residential property next to state-owned shorelands, tidelands, or related beds of navigable waters (other than harbor areas).
  • The moored boat is used for private recreational purposes.
  • The moored boat is not more than sixty (60) feet in length.
  • The area being used for the buoy is not subject to prior rights.
  • The mooring buoy will not obstruct use of previously authorized mooring buoys.
  • The mooring buoy is located on state-owned aquatic lands, but as near to the shore of residence as practical.
  • All applicable local, state, and federal rules and regulations have been met.

Oh! and it appears there are four different agencies that need to be contacted prior to approval.

  • The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • The Washington Department of Ecology
  • The US Army Corp of Engineers
  • The County Shoreline Master Program

To my eye, the mooring buoys in Port Madison are many and indiscriminately placed. Most of the houses along the shore that may want a buoy already have a dock. There are far more buoys than homes along the shoreline. I also noted that most of the buoys were unmarked and unoccupied.

Is anchoring a prior right? I don’t know the answer. It seems to me that if the proliferation of mooring buoys in anchorages diminishes or eliminates the ability to anchor the answer should be yes.

Jumping through hoops with four government agencies seems like a sure way to expend an incredible amount of time and effort without a satisfactory result.

I sent an email to the DNR folks about how this all should work and will update this post when/if I receive a response.

7 thoughts on “How many mooring buoys?

  1. There should be some requirement that mooring balls actually be used some percentage of the year. Of course, that would be difficult / expensive to enforce. I’ve heard once people get a mooring ball, they never give it up (even if no longer owning a boat) because it maintains their spot (and probably contributes to property value). They may be legal but obtained a long time ago.

    • Hi Patrick. Thanks for stopping by. I can see where you would never want to let a buoy permit go once you jump through all the hoops to get one. I expect the buoy is permitted to the property and/or the owner? The last three to five years have seen a significant increase in the number of buoys and a resulting diminished area available for anchorage. I can see that a few near the shore may have permits. I suspect the majority filling the bay are not permitted. I am hoping to obtain some clarity from the DNR. I will update the post with any information they can provide.

      • Having tried to get my own years ago, and talked to neighbors who either had a permitted one, or not, I would agree that 90% are not legal. And I think that is a conservative number. I knew of three people on my beach who would put one out every summer and remove it later in the year – none of them were ever fined to my knowledge.

        I think it would be hard in some respects connecting which buoy goes with which house if they are in a crowded bay like Port Madison.

        I think the DNR is likely under staffed to deal with the problem, has a hard time figuring out who they belong to, and likely a lot of them come and go so they may never even see them depending on on their timing for the camera boat.

  2. I’ve tried to anchor there many times in the last few years, and just cruised through even more. I agree with you – there are too many. And I know they cannot all be legal. I own a house on the waterfront on Vashon Island, and have tried to legally get a permit to have a buoy for years, and it is not probable it will ever happen. Not only is WDFW involved, but DNR, Army Corps of Engineers, and potentially the county your house is in. They don’t like these being added, as it messes with the ecology, which I agree with.

    Unfortunately, people get away with it. I suspect some may just pay the fines, and I doubt the homeowners in Port Madison would be that worried given what that property costs!

    WDFW/DNR have a boat that goes around several times a year with cameras all around it. They photograph and video all shorelines in populated areas, and compare that against the previous ones. That is how they caught my neighbors illegal mooring ball, fined them, and told them to remove it. It is also how they track shoreline development like bulkheads and the like.

    I’m sure it is convenient to have all of those mooring balls for the folks that live there. But Port Madison has looked worse and worse circulation wise every time I’ve been there. It would be great to not take all the space, allow for both mooring balls and anchoring folks to be there, and for the ecology to not be as messed up with all of them there.

    Who knows, maybe we’re both wrong and these are all permitted. I’m guessing not.

    • It is a shame. It is a wonderful, quiet place to anchor. We watched a 40′ sailboat come in and pickup a mooring buoy on the edge of the “channel”. They all hopped in a dinghy and motored off somewhere beyond the Bainbridge Island Yacht Club docks. Never to be seen again by us. Cleary they do not live along the shoreline nor anywhere near where the buoy was. Therefore, based on the requirements in the DNR buoy brochure, I would say that buoy cannot be legal.

      We also saw at least one buoy partially submerged, I can see that becoming a hazard in the near future.

      I am seeing more and more anchorages choked off by mooring buoys. If they are legal, that’s fine. Boaters will just have to deal with it. If not, I would like to see the state take action. More and more I see laws enacted, but not enforced. What does that say to the law abiding? But that’s an slightly different subject.

      With luck, I will receive clarification from the DNR folks. If so, I will update the post with whatever information I can discover.

      • “I am seeing more and more anchorages choked off by mooring buoys. If they are legal, that’s fine. Boaters will just have to deal with it.”

        I can’t say I completely agree with you here. Legal just means it was approved by some branch of government (often a completely illogical one); it doesn’t mean it makes sense. And the total lack of cooperation between moor-ees means they aren’t even making good use of the space. I realize there is little to be done about given the various jurisdictions but it does get under my skin as, every year, more and more favorite stops slowly disappear.

        • Hi Bruce. I don’t disagree with you. Legal does not mean right. And this is not limited to Port Madison. It’s just the best example I have. I suspect 90% of these buoys are illegal. Perhaps all of them. When we have been there, most are unused. I suspect many are also abandoned.

          One of the criteria for a legal buoy is that it not interfere with a prior right. I would submit that anchoring is a prior right that cannot be superseded. We cannot create more bays and inlets for safe anchorage. Another criteria is that you must have property bordering on the shoreline. In the case here, there are more buoys than houses. And most of the houses have their own docks. The DNR states that the buoy must be located as near to the property and shoreline as practical. Looking at the buoys in Port Madison, this is clearly not the case.

          As Steve indicated in his comment, he has been trying to get a permit for years. I suspect gaining the approval of four separate government bureaucracies borders on the impossible.

          I’ve email the DNR twice since this post with no response to this point. I will update the post if I am able to glean additional information.

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