Puget Sound Ferry, Tanker and Navy Ships Security Zones

Puget Sound has a large amount of vessel traffic and has very specific safety zones around whales and many types of ships.  All mariners need to understand and observe the safety zones.

Washington State Ferries and other Passenger Carrying Vessels: Operate your vessel at minimum speed when within 500 yards and do not approach within 100 yards.  If you must approach within 100 yards to comply with the Navigation Rules  you must contact the Master of the vessel or the Coast Guard escort vessels or other on scene escort vessels on VHF-FM channel 13 or 16 for instructions.  Do not approach within 25 yards of a moored passenger vessel.  33-CFR-1317

Navy Vessels: Operate your vessel at minimum speed when within 500 yards and do not approach within 100 yards.  If you must approach within 100 yards to comply with the Navigation Rules you must contact the Navy  Vessel or the Coast Guard Escort Vessels on VHF Channel 16 for permission and instructions. 33-CFR-1321

Tank Ships: Operate your vessel at minimum speed when within 500 yards and do not approach within 100 yards.  If you must approach within 100 yards to comply with the Navigation Rules you must contact the Tank Ship or the Coast Guard Escort Vessels on VHF-FM Channel 13 or 16 for permission and instructions. 33-CFR-1313

“Protection and Security Zones” one page PDF poster from the Coast Guard.

Killer Whale Watching

Marine Wildlife Guidelines

The Laws ( RCW 77.15.740 ) It is unlawful to:

  • Approach within 300 feet of a southern resident orca whale.
  • Cause a vessel or other object to approach within 300 feet of a southern resident orca whale.
  • Intercept a southern resident orca whale, places or allow a vessel to remain in the path of a whale and the whale approaches within 300 feet of that vessel.
  • The operator of a vessel within 300 feet of a southern resident orca whale fails to disengage the transmission of their vessel.
  • Feed a southern resident orca whale.
  • Harass any marine mammal.


  • The safety of a vessel, crew or passengers would be threatened by compliance with the law or it is not feasible due to limits of the vessel design, or the vessel is restricted in it’s ability to maneuver due to wind, current, tide or weather.
  • A person is lawfully participating in a commercial fishery and is engaged in actively setting, retrieving, or closely tending commercial fishing gear
  • A person is acting in the course of official duty for a state, federal, tribal, or local government agency
  • A person is acting pursuant to and consistent with authorization from a state or federal
    government agency

Nothing in  RCW 77.15.740 is intended to conflict with existing rules regarding safe operation of a vessel or vessel navigation rules.

General Notes:

Puget Sound also has Exclusion Zones around some shipyards, Navy Yards, Firing Ranges and other sensitive shore side operations.  The prudent mariner will check the charts, relevant Code of Federal Register and be very aware of any warning buoys that mark safety or exclusion zones.  The Local Notice to Mariners has updates on Exclusion Zones and the Coast Guard may also broadcast warnings of special Exclusion Zones.

You should operate you vessel in a non-threatening manor when in the area of any vessel that has a security zone around it.  For instance, aiming right at a vessel while approaching it at high speed is not recommended and will bring you to the attention of Law Enforcement Officers.

The penalties for violating safety zones are severe.  Violations of the Naval Vessel Protection Zone is a Felony Offense, punishable with up to 6 Years in Prison and/or up to $250,000 in fines.

The Coast Guard has armed escorts of ships in Puget Sound, the escorts are on an irregular basis so you will not be sure if the ship is escorted or if the escort is on the far side of the escorted vessel and in contact with the Master of the Vessel.

Tacking in front of an Aircraft Carrier is not a good tactic and will bring a very swift response, the carrier escort vessels move and accelerate very fast.  Yes I did see that done when the carrier was leaving after Sea Fair, it took only a few minutes for a carrier escort vessel to come from behind the carrier to looming over the wayward sail boat.

A new Regulated Navigation Area; U.S. Navy Submarines, Hood Canal  area has been established in Hood Canal and Dabob Bay (33-CFR-165.1328).  The Regulated Navigation Area is from the north entrance of Hood Canal as defined by a line running approximately between Foulweather Bluff and Kinney Pt. on Marrowstone Island.  The RNA extends to the south end of Hood Canal and is defined by a line westward from approximately Stavis Bay.  The new RNA requires all vessels and persons within the area to follow all lawful orders and/or directions given to them by Coast Guard security escort personnel.  This area is narrow and extra care is required by all vessels operating in the area when submarines are in transit.

Submarines and their escorts transit Puget Sound, Hood Canal and the Strait of Juan de Fuca on a regular basis.  Extreme care should be exercised by all vessels when submarines are in transit.  The security escorts are armed and at very high alert during the transits and the submarines can produce large and unexpected waves and swells.

Other Cautions

Hood Canal and Dabob Bay have several restricted areas covering: No anchor zones, no towing a drag, torpedo testing, do not operate screws during torpedo testing zones, no entry or restricted entry zones and security anchorage areas.

Sinclair Inlet, Port Orchard and Bremerton have several restricted areas covering: No anchor or dragging  zones and restricted entry areas.

Everett Marina and Navy Base: The Everett Navy base is located on the east side of the entry channel to the Everett Marina.  DO NOT enter the Navy Base, The entrance to the marina is a slow no wake zone.  Do not tie-up to the Navy pier or docks.

Puget Sound also has many cable crossing areas that should not be anchored in.

Puget Sound is a working port area with many military installations, cruise ship docks, shipyards, tanker loading and off loading areas, refineries, container terminals.  Many of these installations have security zones, restricted operations or access.

The prudent mariner will consult up to date charts of the relevant areas and the proper scale as well as the Local Notice to Mariners, Code of Federal Regulations and other relevant regulatory sources.  Mariners should also be alert to buoys and other Aids to Navigation indicating restricted or special operation areas.


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4 Responses to Puget Sound Ferry, Tanker and Navy Ships Security Zones

  1. sandy w says:

    Hi Captnmike!

    so here’s my question regarding vessel security zones, recently I was piloting a fishing vessel across Elliot bay into the Duwamish waterway, while doing so one must cross the sea lanes used by the ferries, on this particular day the ferry was docked in Seattle as I entered into the sea lane, about half way across the ferry left Seattle and approached at a high rate of speed accompanied by a Coast Guard patrol boat, they are approaching beam on, so at this point we are not entering into the security zone, but they are bringing it to us, also the law says you much use your lowest safe speed in the 500 yd zone. is the ferry supposed to so down to avoid collision? are we supposed to make best speed to cross the sea lane? on this particular day I maintained course and best speed, we were accompanied by the Coast Guard patrol boat with a guardsman pointing a 50cal machine gun at me the whole way across, not very pleasant. How should handle a situation like this in the future? maybe there is no right answer!


    • captnmike says:


      I think you did the proper thing – proceeding at 90 degrees to the course of the Ferry shows that you are trying to clear the area as efficiently as possible – also calling the Ferry and or the Coast Guard on Ch – 16 might have helped a bit – if I saw the Ferry approaching / leaving the slip I probably would have opted for a bit more speed at the far range of the security zone – by contacting the Ferry or Coast Guard you give them a chance to give you early direction if they would like you to increase speed for instance to clear the area a bit quicker – some vessels (mine for instance don’t have a high speed under power) – having twice myself been “escorted” by the Harbor Patrol or the Coast Guard I can attest the the tense feeling – my crew was also a bit nervous – making sudden moves or maneuvers would also be discouraged –

      The big trouble number is the 100 yard point – by staying outside that and operating your vessel slowly and non-threatening, you should be safe and only get a serious looking over.

      A sudden change of course or increase in speed would be very bad, you want to look as harmless as possible.

      thanks for sharing your experience


  2. Michael says:

    On a different note on boat safety:
    Unfortunately most recreational boaters do not comply with the “Rules of the Sea” during restricted visibility and this is so important for the safety of personnel and property…Do the Required Sound Signaling!! Safe Sailing!

    • captnmike says:

      Add the boaters that take their hand held GPS and follow a route on the GPS while on a plane because “I have the map right here and I know where I am going” – never mind the junk in the water or the other boaters they can’t see. I have several friends that have almost been ran over by nitwits in the fog as the nitwit went by on a plane.

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