In its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), the United States has sovereign rights over the exploitation of commercial living resources. Unlike marine fisheries, however, the site-specific nature of ocean aquaculture operations requires the assignment of property rights to designated areas of ocean space. The allocation of rights to ocean space is a contentious issue, particularly in the absence of a coordinated national policy governing allocation of ocean space between aquaculture operations and other competing uses. Even when such allocations take place, there is now only a rudimentary system in the United States for providing access to ocean space for aquaculture purposes. Some proposals to establish an access system for ocean aquaculture have surfaced within the last few years in both the U.S. executive and legislative branches, but none has been adopted. It has been suggested that lessons might be learned from management regimes and practices both for aquaculture in other jurisdictions and for other types of public resources. We present results of a comparison of access systems for onshore public natural resources in the United States and for ocean space for aquaculture in US coastal states and other nations. Instead of choosing a preferred access system from this comparison, we emphasize the importance and potential utility of the method of comparison. In particular, we develop a characterization of access systems using generic design features that may be useful for drawing lessons from disparate systems. Further, we comment on the economic efficiency, fairness, and environmental sustainability of some of the alternative access system design features.