In French, the word mouillage (anchorage or moorage) is a marine term that has two meanings: first, it means a well-protected coastal area where vessels can be anchored, either temporarily or over longer periods of time; and second, it refers to the equipment used to moor a boat, either with an anchor and chain, or on a buoy chained to a dead weight, generally a concrete block.

From an administrative and legal point of view, mouillages for pleasure boats fall into different categories. First, there are so-called ‘organised’ mouillages, which correspond to coastal sectors developed by local authorities, having obtained the necessary authorisations. This lightweight equipment, which consists of lines of mooring buoys, are arranged in a logical manner in order to optimise mooring capacity. This is a more cost-effective option for mooring smaller-sized pleasure vessels. Their use is mainly seasonal, making protective structures unnecessary, as ships remain on land during the off season.

Legal framework

The legal framework for organised mouillages is laid out in Article 28 of French law no. 86-2 of 3 January 1986 pertaining to the development, protection and enhancement of the coastline. The principles for the creation, management and control of mooring areas and light equipment in the public maritime domain are set out in implementing order no. 91-110 of 22 October 1991, pertaining to temporary occupation permits (autorisations d’occupation temporaire, AOT). As with any use of the public maritime domain, the collective mooring area is risky and revocable; its duration is a maximum of 15 years with potential renewal. The permit determines whether use is seasonal or annual. On expiry of the occupation title, the permit holder is required to leave the site in its original state, except in the case of AOT renewal or a request by the prefect to maintain the changes in place.

Order no. 91-110 of 22 October 1991 also established the payment of a state fee to the French tax authorities, in return for the use of public maritime domain. This payment is made by the manager of the mooring area. The manager may in turn charge boaters a fee for the services provided. Furthermore, the order specifies that reserving space for passing pleasure boats is obligatory.

Organised mouillages (photos by Nicolas Bernard)

‘Authorised’ and ‘wild’ mouillages

In addition to organised mouillages, there exists another type set up by the boaters themselves, sometimes in a highly disorganised manner. Some are ‘authorised’, i.e. installed by boaters upon approval from the relevant administrative services and payment of a fee. It is also through an AOT granted by the administrative authority that mooring on the public maritime domain can be granted on an individual basis. This authorisation, which is risky and revocable, is granted upon payment of a fee by the boater.

Mouillage is referred to as ‘wild’ when it has not been declared. In the absence of sufficient means of verification, and considering local traditional practices and generally seasonal usage, this type of mouillage is usually tolerated as long as it does not present a danger to navigation and other users of coastal waters. In some regions, namely in Brittany, this type of method is particularly developed; whether organised or not, mouillages accommodate many more vessels than marina pontoons.

Individual mouillages (photos by Nicolas Bernard)

The current trend is to promote organised mouillages in an effort to reconcile pleasure-boater demand, the preservation of the coastal environment and the budgetary constraints of coastal municipalities. However, while some managers view mouillages as a response to marina capacity saturation, others warn of the dangers of their proliferation due to the environmental impact (notably on the landscape). Moreover, although considered ‘light’ infrastructure, it nevertheless requires coastal development (car parks, parking areas, etc.).

It should be noted that anchoring or mooring may be prohibited in some areas for environmental reasons (i.e. a fragile seabed) or safety reasons (channels, submerged pipes or cables, etc.).