Boater Safety 101- How to Safely Explore the USVI Waters

Boater Safety 101- How to Safely Explore the USVI Waters

Good Morning Everyone- Hillary here.  I have another contributor to introduce to you today who has previously written for NOSJ and brings a vast knowledge of the boating industry and St. John history to the table.  Leah Randall Hanson has been on St. John on and off since her dad moved here in 2006 and made her own transition permanent in 2013.  She is the Commodore of the Coral Bay Yacht Club and co-owner of Flyaway Charters with her husband, Colin.  Leah has a passion for snorkeling and diving in the waters of the USVI and a strong interest in the historical sites and stories of St. John.

Leah and Colin have consulted for the VINP on underwater archeological sites as well as the VI State Historical Preservation Office.  Here, she shares some On the Water safety tips that will hep protect you, the beautiful waters surrounding you and others who are utilizing that beauty for an equally amazing day!  I, personally, am looking very forward to her insights from the Coral Bay and “on the water” perspectives!

Boater Safety 101- How to Safely Explore the USVI Waters 1
Leah, Colin and their little guy, Thatch. We all know who is really in charge here 🙂

Hey guys!  It’s been awhile since I wrote an article for News Of St. John but I am so thrilled to be back! 

So, what’s one of the first things you want to do while you’re on St. John?  Get in the water, right?  Whether you’re renting a boat, kayak, SUP or going to the beaches, the water is the centering heartbeat to all of our experiences on St. John.  With our crystalline vibrant waters, diverse and thriving reefs, perfect beaches and so many fun spots on the water to visit, the waters of the Virgin Islands are super busy these days.  And we totally understand why.  Not only are we one of the few Caribbean destinations open to tourism traffic, but our waters are beautiful and beg to be explored.   

Boater Safety 101- How to Safely Explore the USVI Waters 2

With the BVI keeping their ports closed till at least March first and many other Caribbean destinations remaining closed , the boating industry and traffic in the USVI has hit a major uptick.  Just days ago, The Moorings, an international yacht charter company, announced a new location at Yacht Haven Grande on St. Thomas.  This is a BIG deal as this will bring a fleet of vessels to the USVI offering both crewed and barefoot ventures. 

There are also growing options for dinghy and small skiff rentals out of Cruz Bay as the harbors swell with new day and term charter options.  Over the past two years, we have more and more options of places to go eat and drink on the water in the USVI, creating even more of a drive to get on the water than before.  Governor Bryan has made his support of enhancing marine tourism blatantly clear.

Boater Safety 101- How to Safely Explore the USVI Waters 3

With all this increased action on the water, I thought it was a good time to remind everyone of some simple rules and where to get more info about how to enjoy the USVI waters safely and responsibly.  

First off, it’s important to remember; whether you’re a snorkeler, a power boater, a swimmer, a sailor, a surfer or whatever else, we all have responsibilities to ourselves, to others and to the environment.  Once any of us get in the water, we should remember that there are a many other people enjoying it in a variety of ways as well as a whole eco system below which we must preserve.

Boater Safety 101- How to Safely Explore the USVI Waters 4

So, how do we do that?  Glad you asked!

We have a wide variety of different shorelines accessible by land; from powder sand beaches to cobblestone shores to dramatic heights and cliffs.  And it’s important to know what is governed by who.   There are three main types of areas you will encounter on and around St. John.  Locallt, there is DPNR, Department of Planning and Natural Resources and the VI National Park and Monument.  And federally, the US Coast Guard (USCG) has jurisdiction across all these waters. Here is the VI National Park map, clearly outlining the Park and the Coral Reef National Monument.  Anything outside of those borders would defer to DPNR.  The VI National Park also has a great interactive map found here.  

Boater Safety 101- How to Safely Explore the USVI Waters 5
VI NPS Interactive Map


You can follow the links to find out all the nitty gritty about each area’s rules but here are some high points:

  1. There is no anchoring in the Coral Reef National Monument (Hurricane Hole) unless it has been opened as a storm refuge.  Please use the moorings which are DAY USE.  Also, you cannot fish in the Coral Reef National Monument.
  2. When enjoying the waters in the National Park, be aware of the Fishing Policies if you intend to fish.  Also, you cannot anchor in the VINP.  
  3. If accessing the waters from the beach, please only stand on sand to avoid damaging the reefs and sea grass beds and be aware of where you are.   A few of our beaches have designated swim areas, make sure to stay within those boundaries for your own safety.  If enjoying a beach without swim areas, be aware of where you are swimming and steer clear of mooring fields.  I know sometimes it gets fun to follow a fish or turtle – but seriously, for your own safety – be aware of this and stay inside the boundary.
  4. Steer clear of dinghy channels at beaches – they will be denoted by a red and green channel marker (channel markets are big red or green buoys in the water).
  5. Always use Reef Safe sunscreen, chemical sunscreens in the USVI have been banned. 
Boater Safety 101- How to Safely Explore the USVI Waters 6
Green and red dinghy channel markers

For every mariner, from the seasoned veteran to the green captain to those who come to the VI for bare boating, safe and respectful boating practices are super important.  There are a ton of rules of the marine world, which is why our professional mariners have to go schools and pass tests!  But there are some simple basics we can all follow.  These will help to make boating a blast while still being safe.  Even if some of these may seem obvious, we’ve seen it all out there!  🙂 

  1. When coming into a harbor you are visiting do not ever pick up a mooring ball that has not been approved for your use.
  2. If you anchor in a harbor, be aware of the surrounding conditions and that every boat could swing different directions with the wind.  Leave enough room between you and other boats for every direction of wind.  
  3. Never anchor in sea grass or coral.  It’s absolutely vital that you know the condition of the seafloor you are anchoring in.  Once you have dropped your hook (anchor), snorkel it to make sure it is not disturbing any sea life or coral.  
  4. Be constantly aware of your surroundings and potential snorkelers or swimmers.  Or turtles! 
  5. Know the harbor you are visiting before you go.  For example, Coral Harbor has no fuel, is a packed harbor, has three provisioning options, a few restaurants and a small dock.  It is also a lively marine nursery with ample sea life and sea grass in many areas.  It is best to anchor at the mouth of the harbor.  Information resources in that area are Coral Bay Yacht Club and Coral Bay Community Council.
  6. Be respectful and aware of others and undersea life while on the marine roads – always.  
Boater Safety 101- How to Safely Explore the USVI Waters 7
Safe anchoring is extremely important to the safety of our underwater friends.

Friends, I could go on and on about this topic with ample more guidelines.  What it really comes down to is being a responsible boater, understanding the responsibilities of being in (and on) the ocean and enjoying the waters respectfully and lawfully.  I hope this helps to understand the waters around here a little more as our marine traffic increases!   Have fun and be safe!

Boater Safety 101- How to Safely Explore the USVI Waters 8

Looking for other info?  Here are some great links:

See something on the water that’s not ok? If you are in waters regulated by DPNR you can  report the action to DPNR anonymously.  If you are in the VINP call the ranger hotline at 866-995-8467 or email them via this page.

Boating Information in the National Park

DPNR general info, including boat registration links

Boating information for the Virgin Islands 

5 thoughts on “Boater Safety 101- How to Safely Explore the USVI Waters”

  1. I have always enjoyed my charters with Leah and Colin.Their knowledge of the waters and history of the area have really added to my wonderful experience.I look forward to my next visit,and appreciate you sharing your expertise.I admire your dedication to such a special place.

  2. Interesting web site/I have a lot on St.John/no talent to clear 1/2 acre in Bordeaux Mountain road area!!!????Guess I will have to fly over from MCO/Orlando & do it/I did pay a couple $500.00 to clear 25X100 area after 25″ set back from road.They used a weed wacker for two hours and gave up!!!??Andy

  3. You could also ask them to be mindful and respectful of the people who live around the water “we are not all here on vacation”
    Please keep your music down, if you want to listen to loud music to to deserted cays and beach’s

  4. Leah,
    I enjoyed your article, thank you.

    Hillary, Leah or Colin,
    Maybe you can help answer this question. We will be traveling to St. John on Mar. 22 and will stay until Mar. 27 when we’ll head to the BVI. I know ports are closed now but hopefully they will reopen March 1. We need to have a Covid test and results prior to entering the BVI. Where in St. John or St. Thomas are they giving Covid tests to travelers and how do you secure an appointment?
    Thank you so much,
    Pam Oates
    [email protected]

  5. I tried going to Reef Safe Sunscreen -online- as suggested but found it very hard to navigate and get what I needed. Just as a heads up.

Leave a Comment