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The original three-mile limit was the recognized distance from a nation's shore over which that nation had sovereign jurisdiction.  This border with international waters, or the "high seas," was established because, at the time, three miles was the longest range of any nation's most powerful guns.  Therefore, it was the limit at which shore batteries could enforce the nation's laws.

The 1988 Territorial Sea Proclamation established the "high seas" border at the current 12-mile limit.

Note: There are many administrative limits in addition to the 12-mile limit.  These include: limits for discharge of sewage, dumping of trash, burying of casketed remains, and many other restrictions.

Note 2: For those who emailed, the answer is yes.  Gambling cruises go out 12 miles to get into international waters where US federal and state laws do not apply.  You can then gamble away to your hearts content.

Posted on Thursday, July 14, 2005 1:09 AM Day Job | Back to top

Comments on this post: Nautical Terminology: Three Mile Limit

# re: Nautical Terminology: Three Mile Limit
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What is the restriction for oil drilling. What I mean is: If China sent an oil rig outside the 12 mile limit of the coast of various oil producing nations (assuming oil exist there), is the legal?
I understand some of the world's more powerful governments would object (or join in). But, do they have any ground to stand on.
And from 12.1 miles out, a nation could slant drill into the other courtries oil (if not available at 12.1 miles).
Left by John Rogers on Jun 06, 2006 2:27 PM

# re: Nautical Terminology: Three Mile Limit
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@John: The answer is that most countries claim natural resources (critters) and seafloor mineral rights (oil, manganese nodules, etc.) out to 200 miles. The problem rises where contries lie close together. Basically they agree to a line that splits the distance evenly, following international precedents and agreements.

I think the Cuban leases ar eon their side of the international dividing line, but the closeness of the countries make the drilling area closer to the Florida shore than Congress currently allows US companies to drill. Overall, Congress' silliness makes more problems than benefit.
Left by Mark on Jun 06, 2006 7:16 PM

# re: Nautical Terminology: Three Mile Limit
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Why was the three mile limit for international waters chosen??

My answer:

The average height for men is about 5' 10'', round it to six feet. Assuming the earth is a sphere of radius approximately 4000 miles, the average man standing at an ocean beach the horizon is about 2.7 miles away. With atmospheric dip taken into account, this distance is very close to 3 miles. QED.

Robert Massagli
Left by robert massagli on Sep 25, 2008 12:21 PM

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