Ruling re access to intertidal zone in Maine

This ruling does not alter the prior rules in Maine that private owners control to mean low tide line. However, there is an exception granted in the old law for certain narrow purposes, and that issue is still under consideration in court.

From the article - “Part of the suit is subject to further discussion about expanding on language used by the state in the 1940s to denote limited rights to the intertidal zone for “fishing, fowling and navigation,” the Portland newspaper reported.”

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The RI state constitution includes “privileges of the shore”, which are generally recognized to include fishing, swimming and lateral passage. The demarcation line between public access and trespassing on private property in RI is mean high tide, which is defined as the average of 18.6 years of data derived from tidal gauges. Unfortunately, you can’t just look at the last high tide wash to know where the line is, it changes over time, and with beach erosion and sea level rise it is now underwater in some places even at low tide.

Sounds like things are a little better in RI than ME with respect to beach access, but there is still a lot of friction with beach-front property owners in RI.

In Maine it depends some on where you are. The situation of homeowners calling the sheriff at the drop of a hat is worse in southern Maine than midcoast and up, but that is just a factor of how many out of staters have replaced long time fishing families as the taxes for waterfront properties went sky high. Over time the problem will continue to creep north. All over the state lobstering families are having to join forces to preserve docks etc for hauling out and storing pots and gear.

One of the most admirable things the Wyeth family has done, Betsy when she was alive and then her and James’ sons after her death, has been to purchase rights to whole chunks of shoreline on islands and cede them back in perpetuity to the fishing families on the island. They recently completed such a deal on I think Allen Island, and it is not the first.

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It’s a problem everywhere. Wealthy jerks feel the need to exclude us “riff-raff” from touching their precious shorefronts, even if they’re only in their “mansions” for a month or so each year. Frankly, I don’t care and if I have a need to haul out, I will, wherever I am. I’ve never had anyone call the police and in the few cases where I’ve had the owner approach me, I’ve assured them that I will respect their property, not make a mess and be gone in a few minutes. That’s always been enough to defuse any concerns. The fact that I’m not a teenager probably helps, too.


I pulled ashore in Wickford Harbor near a large house, and had the owner come out and yell at me that I was trespassing on private property. I was actually standing in the water at the time. There was no defusing the situation with that guy. I just got back in my boat and went on my way.

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In CT, “Mean High Tide” is on the books, along with an obligation of all shoreline property owners to provide emergency access to the shore. Of course, that all depends on net worth of the property owner.

About 20 years ago, a bunch of us were paddling at the Thimble Islands, and a property owner started screaming at us to get off his water, and out of his view. One of our group knew the statutes inside and out and claimed to have chest pain, and told the owner if he didn’t allow emergency access, he’d have him arrested. Then he quoted the statute, and yelled “Let that be a lesson to you”. And if the cops did come, it would have been interesting, because the guy in our group was former CEO of a large defense contractor.

There have been many notable cases here of denying legal access, including one where the “Trespasser” was a criminal lawyer. Oops! Legal proceedings afterward didn’t work out so well for the property owner.

So basically, the law is ignored, and the police go along with the property owner in almost all cases.

the ruling is nothing new. Its just a rehash of a challenge to the existing statue. Its just the latest skirmish in a war that has gone on for a long time
Doesn’t affect my paddling at all.

No change as of this ruling, agreed. It could get dicey if they revise those exclusions though, which are apparently still in play.

Florida has many issues like this. Anchoring near waterfront homes, fishing near residential dock, and public use of private beach areas.

A few years ago, near Vero Beach, things (cellphone video) went viral.

A Google search of “ fish Joyce’s dock” and “fish Joyce’s dock event” ( a news media video summary) illustrates how out of hand these things can get to be. It’s a Florida thing, I guess.

I like using planned stops at public shoreline when paddling on the Indian River Lagoon. It helps avoid these conflicts. Only once did anyone shout at me from shore while I paddled close by…a condo short term renter who didn’t know his building was next to a county park and kayak launch. I just gave him a friendly wave and a smile knowing he would soon figure it out.

Another issue that causes a lot of conflict around here are state shoreline access points. The state of RI is pretty good about trying to provide public access to the water for all residents - an approach often not supported by the local residents. The way local communities often restrict the use of these access points is by restricting parking.

I was leading a trip a couple of years as ago on Point Judith Pond and used one a the smaller access points at the end of a street in a residential neighborhood.

Parking was on the street, but it wasn’t posted no parking, We had a nice trip, but came back to find every car had been ticketed. A local resident came out to tell us that he had called the police to complain because too many people were using the access point.

We called the police to complain, and the duty officer agreed that the tickets had been issued improperly and had them all waived. Still, the resident got his way since I haven’t used that access point again.

Parking can itself be a back and forth thing in Maine. There are places in Muscongus Bay that I will comfortably leave an out of state plate in July and August that I would have second thoughts about the rest of the year. Unless it is specifically marked as OK.

Why? Your post smacks of bias even if not intended. We had lots of folks from away in the last two years all year.

This is based on two experiences. One is a spot near Bradford Point where the parking has always been a bit informal, and until there were signs put up it was not unheard of to come back from a trip to find a parking fine on your car. It tended to be more common for out of state plates until they got the signs up. It appears (and rightly so frankly) that the assumption was that the Maine plates were people who may have gone out fishing. Once they got the signs up things were much clearer.

The other is advice from local residents to refrain from using a particular launch in the Bay. You are free to start an argument with the local residents who gave me this advice if you wish. This particular family has been in Friendship for 120 years or so for summers and, for a few decades, some of them year round.

more bias… I am quite done with you… Of course locals knew of the no parking areas and out of staters did not have that knowledge. It is not targeting out of staters. Could the messaging have been better? Of course.

And there is one area on Muscongus which has for 40 years been a problem for vandalism and not only for you but for us too.

LOL… I am a local resident.

I have a souvenir parking ticket from the Town of Harpswell after parking my car and trailer roadside at Bethel Point a few years ago. Fortunately, I got back from a paddle just as an officer was ticketing my car. He said no trailers are allowed May 15 - Sept. 15. But the officer was a nice guy and pointed out that there weren’t any signs telling us out of staters about the rule. He even complimented me on parking well out of the road and made the ticket a warning. So, now I know to car-top at that launch. Same with Bradford Point but there is a sign about trailers there.

And as far as shore access in the tidal zone, I fortunately haven’t had much need to access private property. I have landed on people’s private beaches a few times, usually to make an adjustment or stash a lobster buoy (my treasure hunt) in one of my hatches. The couple of times the land owner talked to me they were fine with my brief landing. I imagine land owners would be much more concerned about groups that are more likely to settle in for a picnic.

I’m pretty sure I know which launch you’re talking about. If it is, we stay right around the corner from it every summer for a week or so. Have friends who have had issues there. We’re lucky enough to be able to launch from the yard.

That aside, let’s not forget that there are still some really nice people who own shoreline property there. My better half and I were poking around near Friendship once, and she had to get out of the boat and stretch because of sciatica in her left leg. We saw two older folks out cleaning their yard on the shore, and asked if we could stop for a couple of minutes. Not only did they say yes, but the woman demoed one of our boats because she was considering one, and we visited for a bit.

Not an every day thing, but it does happen.

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It is not no parking areas l speak of. It is areas that obviously have had casual use but with lack of clarity. The second is a marked parking area.

I did not say that this was a consistent problem. l did say it had occurred, so l am cautious about where l park.

Honestly some of it is respect for local practices where messaging is unclear. You were so busy getting offended that apparently escaped you. I am fully aware you are a resident. I attempt ,to respect local practices, especially where it impacts local fishermen. It had not occurred to me anyone would get angry at that.

Must have been wrong.

Yup, that is the one Wayne. I guess not shocking after that Harbormaster wanted to have the Coast Guard give tickets to kayakers without a flag.

But l can see the annoyances to fishermen too. Like wanting to launch a kayak off a working dock piled high with lobster pots. It would never even occur to me to impose that way, that is what designated launches are for. But l have met the occasional kayaker had the whatever to ask, and was offended at the obvious answer. Just takes one of those for the story to circulate for a while.

After reading don’t touch my boat, isn’t there a common sense answer to the problem of property access? Is there any point to buying waterfront property and developing it, then granting access to anyone who wants to use or abuse it? Is faking a heart attack the same as actualy needing help for a real heart attack? Where does a property owner draw the line for one person taking a break, to a group stopping to foul the beach where your children might swim because its a good spot to relieve themselves, or a pack of drunks stopping to party at your fire pit and litering your beach with broken bottles?

Its easy for me. If I don’t know the property owner, I repect his or her privacy, nod and move on, or ask permission. Treat others as you would be treated. That’s what I do. Even if other members of a group I’m with decide to stop on private property, I live by my rules. Its none of my business what anyone else does.

If common sense was all it took there would not be stories each summer about engagements between paddlers and property owners. Really everywhere. Southern Maine more than further up, times of highly contentious situations in portions of the Adirondacks and l am sure everywhere else.

Many of the really challenging ones are due to either the land owners or the paddlers not understanding the rules. Like paddlers assuming the shore is always theirs below the high tide line. It isn’t. Or places in the Adirondacks where newer property owners were unaware their land bordered on a water course that is considered to be navigable even though it is a pretty small thing. And the owners house is far away and out of sight from the marsh that stream goes through. The paddler has no sign they are offending anyone until the owner shows up yelling at them.

Local knowledge always rules. But sometimes you need a little more of it.