What is the contiguous zone?


The contiguous zone is a band of water which extends from the outer edge of territorial sea to a point lying 24 nautical miles from baseline.

Within the contiguous zone, a state can exert limited control over vessels for the purpose of preventing or punishing infringement of the customs, monetary, immigration or sanitary laws and regulations that apply to its territorial sea and borders.

You can find out about the legal background to this topic by visiting our maritime law pages.

Territorial sea

Territorial sea, which marks the inner border of the contiguous zone, lies up to 12 nautical miles from baseline. There are no standard rules for resolving conflicts in situations where contiguous zones overlap, and as a result, each state must negotiate its own compromise with its immediate neighbours.

Territorial sea was defined in 1982 by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as a belt of coastal water extending no more than 12 nautical miles from baseline. Territorial sea is regarded as sovereign territory, although foreign vessels are usually allowed innocent passage in this area.

These treaties form part of international law, which you can learn about by clicking the link.


Baseline is defined as the boundary at the land edge of territorial waters, and is measured by the low water line along the coast, as marked on charts officially recognised by the coastal state. This could be the low water mark closest to the shore.

Straight baselines are defined by connecting fringing islands along a coast or across the mouths of rivers or bays, as long as the bay is not more than 24 miles across.

Maritime solicitors

Issues relating to the contiguous zone frequently crop up in matters relating to maritime law. Maritime lawyers are concerned with territorial and shipping disputes, and can offer legal advice on all aspects of shipping law.

Special provision is made in international shipping law for internal waters, being those areas of water over which a state has complete jurisdiction, such as lakes, rivers and archipelagic waters within surrounding sovereign islands.

If you would like to obtain legal advice on maritime law, Contact Law can put you in touch with a cost-effective shipping solicitor free of charge. Please call us on 0800 1777 162 or complete the web-form above to speak to one of our advisors.

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