BY: HUNTER K. AVIS WITH RICHARD D. LINNELL
Earlier this year, I was asked by a reader about the marking and removal of underwater hazards, as well as floats, buoys, and swim areas in general. As it happens, Michigan’s inland lakes are subject to a number of rules and regulations regarding buoys, beacons and swim areas.
To begin, we should touch on the general rule regarding the use of the surface water of Michigan’s lakes: Any person with lawful access has the right to the surface of the whole lake to boat and fish, as long as those persons do not create interference with the reasonable use of the water by riparian owners and their lessees and licensees. This means that in many scenarios, a riparian owner may have title to the bottomland, while sharing the surface water with the general public.
Generally, if one wants to place a buoy in the water, that will require a department of Energy, Great Lakes, and Environment (“EGLE”) General Permit (“GP”). GPs (which currently carry a reasonable $50 application fee) are required for both buoys that are “aids to navigation” as well as “mooring buoys.” Pursuant to MCL 324.80159, EGLE may authorize “the placing of buoys or beacons in the waters of this state to mark obstruction to navigation, to designate bathing areas, to designate vessel anchorages, or for any other purpose if it will promote safety or navigation.”
Further, MCL 324.80162, states that a navigational or marker buoy may not be used “to moor or fasten a vessel.” Mooring buoys require a separate permit application than aids to navigation, and have additional permit requirements. A residential riparian property may have an associated mooring buoy, so long as that property is located landward of the buoy, and the circular area the moored boat rotates through under all wind conditions is kept clear.
Water ski course buoys require a separate permit for their installation and placement, managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Water ski course applications require certain certifications from nearby riparian property owners, as well as a detailed drawing of the proposed course. The Michigan Water Ski Association is a great resource on slalom course particulars.
If a buoy, marker, swim raft, or any other item presents a hazard to navigation, EGLE or local law enforcement may remove the obstacle, or may order the individual responsible for the obstruction to remove it, and pursue costs against the responsible party.
If you have questions about permitting buoys or any other real estate related questions, please let us know.
Linnell & Associates was formed in 2009 in response to the homeowners’ need for assistance during the economic downturn due to the housing crisis. Since then, Linnell & Associates has transformed into a well-rounded law firm with its focus on real estate matters.