The following definitions are compliant with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Waters on the landward side of the baseline.


The State has sovereignty over this maritime space. Its sovereignty extends to the surface of the waters, to the underlying water column, its bed and subsoil and air space.

The territorial sea extends from the baselines to a maximum distance of 12 nautical miles, calculated from the baselines.

The State has full sovereignty over the bed and subsoil, surface and underlying water column and air space.

Sovereignty shall not, however, hinder the right of innocent passage of which the ships of all States benefit in the territorial sea.

The contiguous zone is adjacent to the territorial sea and extends to a maximum distance of 24 nautical miles calculated from the baselines.


In this zone, the State exercises all necessary controls to prevent or punish infringement of its customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary laws and regulations within its terrestrial or maritime territory.

The exclusive economic zone is adjacent to the territorial sea and extends to a maximum distance of 200 nautical miles calculated from the baselines.

This is a space in which the coastal State do not practice its sovereignty but only the following rights:

  • sovereign rights over the water column, the bed and subsoil for the purposes of:
    • exploration, exploitation, conservation and management of natural resources, whether biological or not;
    • exploration and exploitation of the zone for economic purposes, such as the production of energy from water, currents and wind;


  • jurisdiction concerning the following fields:
    • construction and use of artificial islands, facilities and works;
    • marine scientific research;
    • protection and preservation of the marine environment.

Apart from the rights and obligations of the coastal States cited above, the exclusive economic zone is a space open to the exercise by any other State of the freedoms set down in the UNCLOS (navigation, overflight, etc.), within the limits set by the Convention.

The UNCLOS introduced a new definition of the continental shelf which can extend “to the outer edge of the continental margin, or to a distance of 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured where the outer edge of the continental margin does not extend up to that distance.” Coastal States can thus have a continental shelf of 200 nautical miles even in the absence of a geomorphological continental shelf, and a continental shelf extending beyond that limit where the presence of certain geomorphological and sedimentary criteria have been recognized by the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS).

The rights coastal State can exercise over the continental shelf are specified in Part VI of the UNCLOS. These rights are sovereign and exclusive over the seabed and subsoil, for exploration and exploitation of natural mineral, fossil and biological resources.

The French authorities also hold competence recognized by the UNCLOS for:

  • construction, operation and use of artificial islands and installations;
  • marine scientific research;
  • issuing consent the course of any pipeline;
  • issuing consent for the course of cables installed or used for exploitation of the continental shelf or of its resources.

First physical obstacle to local maritime navigation. Downstream, navigation is "maritime", upstream, navigation is "fluvial", with consequences in terms of ship safety standards, shipping police, staff qualification and social regime (merchant navy or inland waterways). It also defines fishing activities in estuaries (status of fishermen).

In estuaries, it distinguishes the maritime public domain (downstream) from the fluvial public domain (if the river in question is state-owned) or from the private domain of local residents (upstream). It constitutes the true limit of the sea (in national law) and serves as a reference to determine the municipalities "bordering the sea" within the meaning of the act of 3 January 1986 (Coastlines act). Pursuant to decrees no. 2004-112 of 6 February 2004 and no. 2005-1514 of 6 December 2005, it determines the respective areas of responsibility of the prefects (upstream) and State representatives at sea (downstream - maritime prefects and government delegates for state action overseas).

In estuaries, the point of salt water cessation constitutes the boundary between the scopes of sea fishing and river fishing regulations. In principle, this limit is fixed by decree.

Established pursuant to the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue signed in Hamburg on 27 April 1979.

The regulatory part of Volume IX of rural and sea fisheries laws is defined by the decree No 2014-1608 of 26 December 2014. In particular, Article D922-16 of the appendix to the decree defines a limit related to fisheries located at 3 nautical miles from the low waterline of the continent and islands and islets which are always dry.
In the particular case of Mayotte Island, in compliance with Article 61 of the prefectural decree No 2018-681 of 30 July 2018 which regulates the exercise of sea fisheries at Mayotte department, this limits is located at 3 nautical miles from the in force baselines

The Regulation (EU) No 1380/2013 of European Parliament and Council of 11 December 2013, in its second paragraph of Article 5, authorises Member States to establish coastal waters along its coasts. Those areas enable member States to restrain fisheries to specific species to specific Member States following precise rules (quotas, limited fishery season). The description of the French coastal waters is established in Part 6 of Appendix 1.
The coastal waters extend from 6 nautical miles from in force baselines to 12 nautical miles from in force baselines. Only portions of the French coasts are concerned.

Title V of Volume IX of rural and sea fisheries laws defines the measures related to Overseas territories. Articles R951-14 and R953-5 in particular define for specific Overseas territories a limit located at 100 nautical miles from the in force baselines. Inside this limit, fisheries are limited to the ships registered in the ports of those Overseas territories, except dispensation allowed by State. Those restrictions are not applied to ships registered in the European Union which are traditionally fishing in those waters, as long as they do not exceed the fisheries effort which is traditionally applied.

This limit is managed by the Department of Underwater Archeological Research (DRASSM) of the Ministry of Culture.
This limit, defined by the Heritage Code at 1 nautical mile from the low-water line, permits to delineate the areas where the licence fee for preventive archeology at sea is applied.
In Mainland France in the Gironde estuary, the limit for the preventive archeology licence fee is stopped by the crosswise limit of the sea as defined by the decree of 26 August 1857.
In French Guiana, the limit for the preventive archeology licence fee is stopped in Maroni and Oyapock rivers by the crosswise limits of the sea respectively defined the order of 30 January 1991 and the order No 863 of 26 May 1986, until meeting the land boundary which delineates the rivers with the neighbouring States.

Routeing measure aimed at the separation of opposing streams of traffic by appropriate means and notably by the establishment of traffic lanes. The measures taken aim at improving navigation safety in areas where navigation is threatened by the density of traffic associated with various natural difficulties.