After you have gone 24 nautical miles (about 27.6 regular miles) away from the baseline, then you have left both the Territorial Sea, and the Contiguous Zone, but the coastal state can still exercise influence on ships passing through this area in a more indirect way. All the way out to 200 nautical miles away from the baseline is the Exclusive Economic Zone. This massive zone extends state control so far over the horizon of the seas, that despite the world being 71% covered by ocean, only 43% is unclaimed by any nation state. Meaning that while 29% of the earth is made of land (including Antarctica) a further 27% of the surface is claimed, though not inhabited by anyone.
In order for a state to claim an EEZ around any island or piece of land, it must first have permanent inhabitants. So even if they plant a flag on a rock sticking out of the ocean 200 miles away to double their territorial claim, they must have people living on that rock full time in order for it to count as part of their country.
Pictured: Rockall, a large rock sticking out of the ocean in the North Sea. The British government claims that this rock is a part of their country, a claim which, if recognized, would give them ownership of all sea resources within a 200 nautical mile radius around it. Though because it is not currently inhabited by any humans, this claim is not recognized by many nations.
Exclusive Economic Zones, as the name implies, do not mean that a state gets to exert control by enforcing its laws and regulations on any ship within this zone, instead, it only gives them claim to own any and all natural resources within the zone. So any fish caught within this zone, technically belong to the host nation 200 miles away, similarly any metals found on the ocean floor, or oil found under the ocean floor, also belongs to the host nation. That being said, economic activity which takes place aboard a ship, is not a natural resources under their control, and thus cannot be taxed or regulated by such a state in any way. In addition, when defining the EEZ the UN says ‘The coastal state cannot prohibit passage or loitering above, on, or under the surface of the sea that is in compliance with the laws and regulations adopted by the coastal State in accordance with the provisions of the UN Convention’. This means that while a state may claim to own the resources within an EEZ, it can’t actually control the space itself, and vessels have the right to pass through, or stay for as long as they want while remaining compliant with international law.
The EEZs of the various nations (along with the waters outside of the EEZs which are completely free in terms of natural resources and belong to no one), are collectively called ‘International Waters’. And while these waters may be international, they are still not completely free of restrictions, including restrictions that would affect seasteading. When a vessel is in International Waters, it must be flagged with the flag of a host nation, and must therefore obey all of the host nation’s laws. Conventionally, ships are supposed to flag themselves with the flag of their country of origin, but in practice, something called ‘Flags of Convenience’ are often used. These are the flags of nations which give financial and regulatory incentives to ships and shipping companies to use their flag instead of that of another nation, in exchange for an annual fee of a few thousand dollars. In practice these flags will usually not only protect the vessel from being boarded by hostile passing ships, but are also even lower regulation than advertised, since the host nation of the flag being flown usually doesn’t have the logistical ability to check and see what kinds of activities are happening aboard all of these foreign ships and whether they are actually complying with the host nation’s laws. Panama is the most common flag of convenience, while Liberia also occupies a spot near the top. The Seasteading Institute last year wrote a paper on the idea of creating a flag specifically for seasteading. So while every ship is forced to bear a flag of an established state, it doesn’t have to be their own and some options are always present, with more possibly coming in the future.
Whatever the regulatory future may hold, the case is still clear, that state claims extend far beyond the land and in fact far beyond what you can see with your eyes from the shore. You simply won’t be able to drive your fishing boat far enough to become completely independent, at least not if any other ships come by and see it without a flag. So for the time being, living with some shadow of foreign control is the norm everywhere in the world, and for the foreseeable future, things are going to stay that way.
Pictured: The maximum extent of all EEZs of all nations of the world.