A CBM gazetteer of the Bay’s many military and/or restricted and/or prohibited and/or dangerous and/or you-might-get-blown-up zones.
Surely this has happened to you: You’re cruising along on the Bay, minding your own civilian business, looking at the chart to make sure it’s a red 2 where you turn to enter the so-and-so channel, when you notice for the first time the words “Restricted Area,” not far from the spot on the chart where you and your boat happen to be at the moment. Or maybe it even says “Prohibited Area,” or “Danger Zone.” Or, our personal favorite, “Bombing Area.” Gulp, you say. And you do what is parenthetically suggested on the chart; you “see Note A.” . . . That snickering sound you just heard is from people who know that “Note A” tells you nothing, except that you’ll have to look elsewhere—namely chapter 2 of U.S. Coast Pilot 3. If you happen to have a copy of Coast Pilot on board, or Title 33 of the Code of Federal Regulations (aka 33 CFR, the source of the aforementioned Coast Pilot chapter), or a fast internet connection, you’re in business. Just look up the cited six-digit number—say, 334.200—and you’ll find everything you need to know. And then some. If you don’t have those particular references handy, you do what most people do—play it safe and avoid the area altogether. Good decision. We applaud your strong survival instinct. And in your honor we offer, on the pages that follow, an overview of the Bay’s many and varied restricted areas. Please keep in mind that this is by no means a comprehensive listing of the Bay’s restricted areas and danger zones. Rather, it is an overview, a very basic visual abstract for the benefit of the recreational boater. If it whets your appetite for more detail, you can find the latest downloadable edition of chapter 2 of U.S. Coast Pilot 3 on the Nautical Charts & Pubs section of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov.
Aberdeen Proving Grounds
For reasons its very name suggests, this is the granddaddy of restricted boating areas on the Bay. A military ordnance testing area since World War I and also site of the former Edgewood Arsenal and a chemical weapons depot (closed in 2006), the installation covers some 12 square miles and reaches well into the Bay, from Spesutie Island to Pooles Island, including virtually all of the lower Bush and Gunpowder Rivers.
* The overall restricted area is off limits to the general public weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., not counting federal holidays. The area is marked by buoys during the boating season (early June through October), and patrol boats abound, particularly during testing periods. If they want to get your attention, they will; they are not subtle. Blue-and-red flashing lights, loudspeakers, sirens—whatever it takes to make you understand you are, or are about to be, somewhere dangerous or off-limits.
* The installation’s permanent prohibited areas include all creeks within the overall restricted area (except Lauderick Creek); Spesutie Narrows, west of Spesutie Island; Hawthorn Cove off Carroll Island, near the mouth of Seneca Creek; the waters immediately off the entrance to Romney Creek; and square area about a mile south of Romney Creek, off what is known as Area 16.
Sources: 33 CFR, section 334.140; charts 12274, 12278
U.S. Naval Academy
* Not counting a few large prohibited and reserved anchorages on the Severn River, the Naval Academy’s maritime footprint in Annapolis is unobtrusive. The only areas permanently closed to civilian boats are Santee
Basin, on the academy’s main grounds near the east corner of the seawall, and the Small Boat Basin on the opposite shore, where the Navy “YP” training boats are docked. Those areas and the waters immediately adjacent to them are closed to civilians at all times.
* The restricted area off the engineering lab, just upstream of the Small Boat Basin, is usually open to civilian traffic, but may occasionally be closed during testing. In these cases, the area will be cordoned off or kept clear by
* Otherwise, you just have to know where you cannot anchor. One is the reserved naval anchorage between the sea wall and the Spa Creek entrance channel. The others are the prohibited anchorage areas, on at the mouth of Carr Creek and the other reaching from the waters off the Small Boat Basin to the Naval Academy bridge (Route 450).
Sources: 33 CFR 334.150, 155 and 160; chart 12283
Quantico and Fort Belvoir
* Civilian vessels are prohibited at all times in the waters immediately off Quantico Marine Corps Base.
* The same goes for the waters off Fort Belvoir, at Whitestone Point in Gunston Cove.
* Farther up Gunston Cove is a firing-range danger zone (also Fort Belvoir) encompassing all of Accotink Bay and part of Pohick Bay. Here boating is permitted except when firing is under way, at which time civilians will be shooed from the danger zone.
Sources: 33 CFR 334.230, 235, 250; chart 12285
* In the mouth of and outside Mattawoman Creek, including parts of Chicamuxen Creek, there is a danger zone adjacent to the Indian Head division of the Naval Surface Weapons Center. Civilian vessels must leave the area if warning lights are flashing or sirens are sounding, or if directed to do so by a patrol boat.
Sources: 33 CFR, 334.240; chart 12285
Potomac River Danger Zones
* Courtesy of the Dahlgren Naval Surface Warfare Center, more or less the entire lower Potomac River is a danger zone, divided into three parts—lower, middle and upper. The lower danger zone
is the entire width of the river from its mouth to St. Clements Island. In this zone there are “infrequent hazardous operations,” during which civilian vessels will be shooed away when and where necessary.
* There’s considerably more action in the middle danger zone, a narrower swath of river from St. Clements Island to (and including much of) Upper Machodoc Creek. Along this stretch of the Potomac, it being closer to Dahlgren, you can expect more regular weekday weapons and watercraft testing.
* The upper danger zone is a much smaller section of the river off Mathias and Persimmon points. As in the lower zone, hazardous operations here are “infrequent.”
In all three zones, hazardous operations are normally limited to weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. And in all three zones, unless otherwise instructed by a patrol boat, civilian vessels may use the river’s main channel at any time, provided they are under power and traveling at least 5 mph.
* Civilian boats are not permitted with within 100 yards of the shoreline of Dahlgren Naval Surface Warfare Center.
* Finally, just upstream from Dahlgren, at the mouth of the Port Tobacco River and in and around Nanjemoy Creek, there is a meandering area where the chart warns of the possibility of unexploded ordnance in the river.
Sources: 33 CFR 334.220; chart 12285, et al.
Naval Research Laboratory, Chesapeake Beach
If you look closely at the cone-shaped restricted area off Chesapeake Beach, Md., which marks a firing range danger zone off the Naval Research Laboratory, you’ll see that it is fact three separate zones, with three separate sets of rules.
* The small rectangular area near shore is a prohibited area, off limits at all times.
* The inner cone, restricted area B, is closed to civilian vessels every afternoon, except Sundays, from 1 to 5 p.m.
* The outer section, restricted area C, is closed during those same times to recreational vessels but allows commercial vessels to pass through (without delay) at all times.
Sources: 33 CFR 334.170; chart 12266
Calvert Cliffs and Cove Point
The waters immediately off the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant, as well as those surrounding liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal at Cove Point, are off limits to civilian vessels.
Source: 33 CFR 165.502, 505; chart 12264
Patuxent Naval Air Station, etc.
* Civilian vessels are not allowed at any time within 100 yards of the shore of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, which occupies the entire neck of land south of the Patuxent’s mouth, across the river from Solomons. n Upriver, civilians are not permitted within 75 yards of the shoreline wrapping around Point Patience, former site of a Navy mine warfare testing station.
* The bay across the Patuxent from Solomons, from Town Point to Fishing Point, while not off limits, is designated as a seaplane operating area.
Sources: 33 CFR 334.180; chart 12264
* The entire Bloodsworth Island archipelago, including Pone, Northeast and Adam islands and 75 yards of water offshore, is off limits to civilians—as is a mile-wide circle in the waters just west of Pone Island.
* The danger zone around Bloodsworth, a rectangular shape with a bulge on the north side, is not off limits, but civilian vessels can expect to be shooed away when potentially hazardous tests or training exercises are under way.
Source 33 CFR 334.190; chart 12231
Guided Missile Test Area
* As with the firing range to the north, only the 2,000-yard-diameter center of this restricted area off Tangier Island is off-limits at all times.
* Elsewhere in the six-mile circle, including the area around the target ship off the west shore of the island, civilian vessels may pass through, except when firing tests are in progress.
Source 33 CFR 334.210; chart 12228
Naval Air Station Firing Range and Target Area
* In the large danger zone off the western shore, reaching from the mouth of the
Patuxent River to the mouth of the Potomac River, are two 2,000-yard-diameter target areas where civilian vessels are prohibited at all times.
* Elsewhere in the zone civilian vessels are permitted at all times, provided they move through the area without delay. Navy vessels (bearing a square red flag) patrol the area before bombing and firing tests to warn away vessels that may be too close. The danger signal from an aircraft is repeated shallow dives, each followed by a sharp pull-up.
Sources: 33 CFR 334.200; chart 12230
There are several restricted areas on the lower York River—a Navy explosives handling berth and Coast Guard training center pier below the U.S. Route 17 Bridge at Yorktown, plus a mine testing area and a Navy supply center above the bridge.
* The explosives handling berth, a 1,200-yard-diameter circle in the river channel above Wormley Creek, is off limits to civilians at all times. n The wider band around that, extending another 600 yards, is a no-anchoring zone, but only when explosives-handling ships are in the area.
* A mile or so upstream of the bridge, also on the river’s south shore, is the mine testing area. The onshore section, surrounding a vast corral pier, is where the real action must be, because it’s strictly off limits, no exceptions. * The larger adjacent restricted area is also designated for mine testing, but civilian vessels are allowed at all times to pass through the area, no doubt because it straddles the river’s main channel.
* Farther upstream, just beyond King Creek on the south shore, is the aforementioned supply center, the Cheatham Annex Depot. This is also open to civilian boats, as long as they pass directly through.
Sources: 33 CFR 334.260, 270, chart 12241
* With the exception of people tending oyster beds and fish traps, no civilians are permitted in the restricted area on the James River off Fort Eustice, at the mouth of Skiffes Creek above Mulberry Island, just upstream of the Reserve Fleet anchorage.
Sources: 33 CFR 334.280; chart 12248
Langley Air Force Base
* No civilians, with the exception of holders of oyster planting-ground leases, are permitted within 35 yards of the mean high-water mark on the neck of land occupied by Langley Air Force Base, which is to say the north shore of the Southwest Branch of Back River and the south shore of the Northwest Branch.
Sources: 33 CFR 334.275; chart 12222
* Because of underwater cables and equipment, there is a restricted area (no anchoring, trawling, fishing or dragging) just east and south of Fort Monroe, roughly a mile and a half square. Just above that is a firing-range danger zone, where civilian vessels may freely pass but are advised of occasional small-arms firing practice. Since Fort Monroe was recently turned over to the National Park Service, it’s not likely that the firing range here will see much use any more. But since the federal regulations and charts still identify it as a danger zone, we dutifully include it here.
Source 33 CFR 334.350, 360; chart 12222
Norfolk Naval Base
* The waters off the docks of the Norfolk Naval Base at Hampton Roads are of course off limits to civilian boats. The prohibited zone, extending a quarter-mile offshore in some places, reaches from the base’s southwest corner, across from the north edge of Craney Island, up to Sewell Point, and then east along the south shore of Willoughby Bay.
* The five circular zones in Hampton Roads, along the Norfolk harbor entrance reach (and one off the Little Creek restricted area) are explosives-handling berths. They are not restricted areas, per se, but a prudent mariner might avoid them on principle.
Source 33 CFR 334.300; chart 12222
Elizabeth River, South Branch
* As you might expect, the Navy’s footprint extends well beyond the naval base itself. The South Branch of the Elizabeth River has a number of areas that are off limits to all but specifically authorized civilian vessels—chiefly the refueling pier at the southeast corner of Craney Island, and the Norfolk Naval Shipyard and its two annexes. The main shipyard stretches for more than a mile along the west side of the Elizabeth River South Branch, beginning just below the Portsmouth waterfront. The St. Helena (dry dock) annex is across the river from the north end of the main yard, and the Southgate Terminal annex is just south of the main yard on the same side of the river, between the two railroad lift bridges.
* Also on the South Branch are several post-9/11 “emergency” restricted areas, per Note D on chart 12253. They are the Coast Guard Station at Craney Island Creek, the mid-river Navy docks just below that at Lambert Bend, the container ship dock at Pinner Point, and the Army Corps of Engineers Docks across from Pinner Point.
Source 33 CFR 334.290, 293; note D, chart 12253
* This irregularly shaped area off Plum Tree Island, at the mouth of Back River above Hampton, is designated as an “Airforce precision test area.” Its use is limited to two days per month, for a total of four hours. Patrol boats are stationed around the area to keep civilians clear during test periods.
Sources: 33 CFR 334.340; chart 12238
Navy Firing Range
* Civilian vessels are permitted in this intermittently used firing range, as long as they pass directly through it at a speed greater than 5 mph. Anchoring in the area is prohibited, except in cases of “great emergency.”
* Near the center of the curving northern boundary of firing range is an unannotated circular area, roughly a mile in diameter, marked
“Danger, Unexploded Bombs and Shells.”
Source 33 CFR 334.220; chart 12225
Little Creek and Lynnhaven Roads
* The large restricted zone off the entrance to Little Creek, about two miles wide and reaching all the way to Thimble Shoal Channel, is a Navy amphibious training area. Civilian vessels are permitted here at all times but may not approach closer than 300 yards from any Navy vessel, or closer than 600 yards (that’s more than a quarter-mile) from any vessel flying a red danger flag.
* The small danger zone in the southeast corner of the amphibious training area is an underwater demolition area and is off limits to all civilian vessels. The larger area east of that is a firing-range danger zone. Civilian vessels are not prohibited, but are advised that a red flag flying on shore indicates that the range is active—though firing will be suspended to allow vessels to pass.
* Also be aware that only the portion of Little Creek extending west from the entrance channel is open to civilian boat traffic. The Navy area, south and east of the entrance, is now off limits to civilians, per note M on chart 12222.
Source 33 CFR 334.310, 370, NOAA chart 12222.
Outside the Bay
* There are a number of restricted areas just outside the Bay, beginning with the large no-fishing, no-anchoring zone off Cape Henry. To the north, on the Atlantic side of the lower Eastern Shore, there’s an Air Force bombing and gunnery range adjacent to Smith and Myrtle islands. To the south, fanning out from below Rudee Inlet, are a pair of vast firing ranges where civilian vessels are permitted as long as they transit the areas promptly. There is also small prohibited area in the waters off Camp Pendleton, as well as an unexploded ordnance danger zone.
Sources: 33 CFR 334.320, 330, 380, 390, 400; charts 12208 and 12224.