How to Use a Mooring Buoy

It’s important to use a mooring buoy correctly to prevent unnecessary wear and tear on the mooring system, as well as protect your vessel and the vessels of others.  There is no fee to use the reef mooring buoys maintained by the sanctuary, but there are mooring buoys in anchorages throughout the Keys that do charge a fee.

  • Buoys are available on a first come, first served basis.
  • Steer the boat from a helm station that enables you to see the buoy during the entire hook up.
  • Approach slowly from down wind or down current, so that the floating yellow pick-up line is closest to you. Keep the buoy on the same side as the helm station so you can see it as you approach.
  • Safely retrieve the yellow pick-up line with a boat hook. Put your vessel in neutral to avoid entanglement.
  • Run your boat’s bow line through the loop of the yellow pick-up line. Cleat both ends of your bow line to the bow of your boat. Never tie the yellow pick-up line directly to your boat as it puts undue stress on the mooring anchor. Never stern tie to a buoy either as this is both dangerous to you and your boat, but also puts undue strain on the mooring system.
  • Let out enough line so that the buoy is not pulled underwater and the line is horizontal. Rougher days may require even more line. Adding extra line will produce a more comfortable experience for your vessel while moored and reduce wear on the buoy system.
  • Inspect the buoy your boat is tied to; you are responsible for your vessel. Check that it is holding as intended and report problems to any of the sanctuary offices.
  • When you are ready to leave, un-cleat your boat’s bow line and pull it through the loop of the yellow pick-up line. Then back well away from the mooring so you do not foul in any of the mooring lines.
map showing buoy locations

Click on the map to see the locations of buoys within Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, or view a complete list of all sites with buoys in the sanctuary.


When using mooring buoys, here are a few additional things to consider:

  • At many reefs, mooring buoys encircle the shallowest reef areas or are located on the ocean side of the reef. Approach mooring buoys from around either side of these shallow areas, always steering to the outside of a ring of buoys. Never motor directly across a shallow reef to get to a buoy.
  • You should maintain idle speed/no wake in the vicinity of the mooring buoys. Do not meander among the buoys and watch for swimmers, snorkelers, and diver bubbles.
  • If there are no buoys available, anchor only in sand, never in coral. Always check to be sure that your anchor is not dragging and your anchor chain is not contacting coral.
  • Smaller boats are encouraged to tie off to one another, thereby allowing larger vessels access to buoys.
  • Sailboats should not leave up large sails as steadying sails when on a buoy; this puts too much strain on the mooring’s eyebolt.
  • Buoy locations have been spaced to provide clearance for most boats when tied up during normal conditions. To avoid grounding, use caution when approaching and while tied to a buoy. Larger-than-average vessels must check depths so that contact with the bottom is avoided.
  • Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary assumes no liability for use of the buoys.