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How are international waters defined?

On Behalf of | Feb 16, 2023 | Admiralty & Maritime Defense

When it comes to legal maritime issues, one of the most complex things is the fact that laws governing certain waterways may change depending on location.

A crucial point of legal issues on the water involves finding out if something happened in U.S. territorial water or in international waters.

Where do international waters start?

ShareAmerica talks about the overall definition of international waters. Generally speaking, the definition includes anything beyond 12 nautical miles from the coastline.

However, there is no strict definition and in many instances, this rule may end up getting bent or blurring a bit.

For example, some countries can impose laws up to 24 nautical miles from their coasts. They also usually maintain control over their vessels whether or not those vessels are in territorial or international waters.

This means that the country to which the owners or crew belong still typically has legal jurisdiction in the matter, even if the issue in question occurred in foreign waters.

Complex matters of law on the sea

However, this often leads to even more complications and confusing matters. For example, even in the U.S. alone, state and federal maritime laws sometimes end up clashing or conflicting.

The owners and crews of any vessels can usually end up avoiding trouble if they abide by U.S. laws, though, regardless of where their ship sails. To that end, it is slightly less of an issue to travel within international waters because legal matters will likely end up handled the same as if the matter occurred domestically or on land.