Dont even touch the bottom with a oar!

-- Last Updated: Aug-17-14 12:44 PM EST --

I have a loaded question after kayaking the Gunnison river Co. in a tandem lake kayak last year.

Before I even got in my kayak, I was warned some of the land owners aren't happy about people paddling through.. I kind of dismissed that until I saw many signs along the river stating private property.. Fine..
Then I see a sign that says.. "Don't even touch the bottom of the river" And I saw a owner fishing who gave me a scowl after I nicely greeted him.

What? Really?

Never in my life have I seen any signs stating this.. I kayak the upper Iowa river at least once a year and have also camped along it.. Was that trespassing? And where do I find the laws? Isn't there a easement?


Sounds like your life is threatened.
Shoot him if you’re in Florida !

Lots of reading on the topic here

Not being a resident of Colorado, I’ve no idea where the current law stands now.

dont worry about it

– Last Updated: Aug-17-14 1:37 PM EST –

USA Federal Maritime Law forbids blocking or obstructing water passage on all USA lakes, rivers, and all bodies of water. This includes the installation of fences for containment of livestock.

Federal law defines waterway to where water meets land. State laws go farther than that and some states include access to some beach area inland beyond the beach. Still, other st s tes try to further restrict water access rights in favor of landowners, However, Federal law trumps state law in waterway access and navigation.

There are plenty of jerks who want to restrict access to everything they could possibly own. They believe that part of the pleasure of ownership is restricting access of others. Some of the Worst are the A-holes who erect tall fences to obstruct the view of what was previously was a scenic part of a lake or stream or vista.

Just ignore the kooks. Do not engage them in banter or dialogue. Dont try to educate them. Just keep moving. If you have trouble, call the police and let them do the educating

This a tricky subject and varies from state and state and even dependent on the body of water within a state.

Also being from Iowa my normal paddling venue is the west fork of the Des Moines river. It’s considered a non-meandering river above, roughly, Emmetsburg, which covers the stretch I normally paddle. Non-meandering means that legally the land owner owns the river bottom to halfway across of the river. If you get out on a sandbar then you’re trespassing.

I believe there was a court ruling in Iowa that said that canoeists (and others using the river) have the right to walk in areas that are covered with water. So if your boat gets hung up in a shallow area and you get out to walk the boat through you’re not trespassing. But if you get out on a dry sandbar to do the same thing you are trespassing.

On a meandering river, however, a canoeist has more rights and can access the shore up to the normal high water line. Not many of those in Iowa. You can see a map of them here:;tabid=869

A description of the differences here:–non-meandered-streams.html?nav=5001

All this applies to Iowa only. Every state treats it differently.


I flyfishing all these waters in my drift boat and have been dealing with this for 25 years. And it is getting worse in Colorado especially. You have the right to the water but they own the land and and that includes the land under the water. So the stream bed is their property. Same in Wyoming. Montana is different in that you have the right even on private property to the high water mark and public accesses like the area around bridges. Some of these landowners are wealthy and have a lot of influence in getting the local sherifs elected and they use those connection to prosecute individuals to “send a message”.

Terminology coined in ingnorance

– Last Updated: Aug-17-14 2:42 PM EST –

That's actually quite a hoot, that is, if it's even true. What's funny is the idea that the original surveyors, followed by the Iowa Legislators, where so clueless about the already long-established meaning of "meander" in terms of rivers, to come up with a new meaning such as that one. I think if you look up the word online, you'll probably see thousands of links showing the meaning of the word as used by the rest of the world. The normal accepted use of the word refers to the character of the river, with that character having nothing to do with depth or ease of crossing.

Well - in the law nothing is simple.
In water law there is a concept of a meandering river that refers to the inevitable change in the water course over time as the outside of curves in the water course is eroded and the river changes course. Sometimes the question arises where is the property line between adjoining owners and how is it affected, if at all, by the meanders in the river. So that spot where you saw the fisherman owner may have been high and dry 50 years ago with grass and trees growing. There is a thing called the “meander line” and the “waterline.” Different states have different rules. You also have overlying the state law the impact, if any, of admiralty law where the river is a navigable water way and there is a whole body of law on the issue of whether admiralty (federal) law governs the use of the waterway.

You better tell each state that
As a land owner who has land on both sides of a non navigable river, My state of NC law states clearly that the land owner can post it and prevent swimmers and paddlers from trespassing.

With that said I welcome all fishermen and WW boaters, but down river a quarter mile from me the fishing club has it posted with a cable across.

Up stream there is a guy that constantly chases people off the water.

Jack L

I can see the logic in that, but where’s

– Last Updated: Aug-17-14 4:12 PM EST –

... the logic in the definition of "meander" as supposedly stated by law in this case? It appears that you didn't understand the point I was making. Sure, I can see how the fact that a river may be constantly changing its location as the years go by would need to be taken into account in some way for cases where it forms a property line at a particular moment in time, but to define a "meandering river" as one that's too difficult to cross at some locations? Where's the sense in that? I can't believe there was no point in the law-making process where someone said "wait a minute, do we really want to insert make-believe terminology into this law?"

You may be correct
that I don’t understand your point. I suspect that there are people posting things here on this topic that may be using terms of art very loosely and who may not be 100% solid on the law or the definition of the terms they are using. I suspect this is causing confusion. Certainly it is in my mind. Just a thought.

I doubt the term meandering river is defined as you infer from the posts.

Basically - my BS meter is in the red zone on this thread. :-).

Read the article that is provided

– Last Updated: Aug-17-14 6:55 PM EST –

The fact that you "doubt" that my interpretation is as stated shows you are simply guessing about what I was talking about. Why make up your mind that I or the person I replied to must be mistaken about this, just based on a guess? Here's a portion of the text that I was referring to:

"When the surveyors reached the bank of a river or stream, if they were able to cross the stream without walking up and down the shoreline to find a shallow place to cross, these streams were called non-meandering streams. So therefore they did not have to meander up and down the stream bank to cross. In the state of Iowa most of the rivers or streams are classified as non-meandering streams."

You can read plenty more of this same mistaken use of the term "meandering" in the article to which the guy I replied posted the link. Even though the article is pretty poorly written, it looks to be legitimate. This is why I say that if this type of river designation is really part of Iowa law, the terminology is a joke.

That article I linked to was the first time I’d ever heard an explanation of why they use the term meandering and non-meandering in Iowa. I have no idea if that’s really where it came from or not but it does seem a bit silly. It does, however, explain the water use differences between the two. At least for Iowa.


Sorry Eric

– Last Updated: Aug-17-14 9:25 PM EST –

After working for more than 40 years with legislatures and statutes there is no logic to it. Only power.

A state law can define a term or word to mean anything it wants. All they have to include in the law is a definition. It usually reads something like: for the purpose of this chapter the word meander means anything the hell we want it to mean, and we don't care what the word meander means to the rest of the English speaking world.

Note: this is a general statement regarding how legislatures often define terms in law. I have not done any research to determine the meaning of meandering or non-meandering stream in the Iowa Code, so I don't know if these terms are defined in relevant Iowa statutes.

Colorado law…
is exactly like that. Technically, the landowner owns everything but the water and can get you arrested for trespass if you touch the bottom, and there are plenty of arsehole landowners who will do exactly that. Floaters have very few rights in Colorado or Wyoming.


I capitalized all that above because every time that federal law is quoted, it does a tremendous disservice to anybody reading it, because is simply doesn’t apply in the real world. Period.

My reply was in no way meant as criticism of you or your effort to shed some light on the variability of a person’s right to travel by river. I can’t help but think if the early surveyors really did classify rivers in that way, it might have come about when one person had just enough familiarity with the word to misuse it in “official context”, making it the norm for everyone in that government department forever more.

don’t touch bottom
and kill 'em with kindness.

Lawyers, the super rich & politicians

Too much power, too much money = corruption.

if only we could vote


– Last Updated: Aug-18-14 7:20 PM EST –

Unfortunately, the American voter does NOT have a vote when the time come to vote yea or nay on the passage of a federal law.

You think paddlers voted yea for a law that states they can't touch the bottom of a river? NOT! They didn't vote; they didn't have a vote.

The law was formulated by lawyers, who were paid by the super rich, and corporations. Politicians voted the way they were told to vote, and then they got paid

How did you vote for Obama care? Yea or nay?
Neither; you didn't have a vote.