Imagine living in a place where there is no government, no regulation, no taxation, and certainly no objections to anything that will alter your mind.
It’s a place beyond the reach of sovereign nations, a utopia where people are free to forge a new identity and a new path, unhindered by the past and by those pesky types who want to interfere every step of the way, including reaching into your wallet.
That’s the concept behind seasteading, which is the notion of creating permanent floating bases (“seasteads”) in international waters, beyond the reach of governments. The concept has been around for a while, and there’s still a long way to go before we see any permanent seasteads. But there’s a growing and eager community, backed by the financial muscle and maverick attitudes of several Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, that envisions a day when it all might be possible.
Most countries claim up to 200 miles of ocean surrounding their nation as their own territory. Beyond that, anything in international waters is subject to the laws of the country that a vessel is sailing under (and how do you think all of those who registered with Liberia feel about that, huh?). This policy can make for some thorny issues at times, but it generally helps to keep order for the ocean-faring.
It’s a place beyond the reach of sovereign nations, a utopia where people are unhindered by those pesky types who want to interfere, including reaching into your wallet.
There have been several abortive attempts at starting seasteading empires. Ernest Hemingway’s brother tried to start the Republic of New Atlantis on a barge off the coast of Jamaica as far back as 1965. Although the concept sounded interesting, it was after all a floating barge, not a serious attempt at colonizing the sea.
The Bible for seasteading came along in 1983, when “How to Start Your Own Country” was authored by Erwin S. Strauss. The book is short on utopian ideas, long on the how-to of putting together a network of ships and other artificial land on the ocean.
Perhaps the most imaginative foray into seasteading was the attempt by a real estate mogul to create an island 260 miles northeast of Tonga. An Australian dredging ship was hired to create two artificial reefs with tons of sand, creating a 15-acre site that was hoped to be the launching point for investors to fill in the rest of the island. But the King of Tonga had other ideas, claiming the land as part of his kingdom.
AUTONOMOUS AND MOBILE
The Seasteading Institute was founded in 2008 to help establish “autonomous and mobile” communities on sea platforms in international waters. One of the co-founders, Wayne Gramlich, wrote an influential article on seasteading, and soon began collaborating with entrepreneur Patri Friedman, who had a proposal for a project that drew on Gramlich’s ideas.
The project caught the attention of PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel, an outspoken Libertarian. He donated a half-million dollars to the cause, and became a spokesman for the project, generating widespread media attention.
To date, the Seasteading Institute has been more about motion than progress. It sponsored a festival on a few floating boats, but quickly backed away from the venture, realizing the costs of the festival insurance would sink the overall project. It is currently focused on “The Floating City Project,” yet another initiative that seeks to establish a seagoing colony, albeit within the territorial waters of an existing nation.
The reason for the philosophical switch? Calmer waters near land, plus easier access for residents of the project.
The shift in philosophy has caused a bit of a downturn among the true believers. To date, they’ve raised a mere $27,000 from 291 funders. Which means they’re basically preaching to the submerged.