I have a very mixed opinion on matters like this and I don’t own any waterfront property. Generally I agree that the public should have some access to a lot of waterfront beaches, etc., but often it doesn’t work out so well, because too much of the general public are slobs who bring their garbage along and just leave it. Broken bottles and all sorts of trash are left behind when they are done enjoying the beach.
Where I paddle, most of the beaches and islands are free to do as you please and for the most part they are not too badly abused, but this is because the vast majority are only accessible by boat. Boaters aren’t all great about picking up as they leave, but as a general rule, they seem to do better than non-boaters.
Most boaters do not use beaches that are right adjacent to private homes and if they did, they would probably be given the stink-eye by the home owners–if not told outright to leave. The only place I felt like I was about to be run off of was a beach at a state park where the ranger knew for sure that I did not pay the park fee, because I had arrived by water. Anyway, I didn’t give the ranger the satisfaction of running me off; I was about ready to be on my way anyway.
I’m very lucky to live where there are more nice sandy beaches than there are people to use them.
The bigger issue that I’ve seen is what rights kayakers have to land on beaches. With the vast majority of beachfront property around here being privately owned, some level of beach access is critical for basic things like stopping for lunch, adjusting clothing or to fix an equipment issue. While you have an absolute right to land nearly anywhere in an emergency, the laws around basic access vary a lot between states and communities. While many allow landing below the “mean high water mark”, not all do. It would be nice if there was one standard for public access to beaches, particularly along tidal waters.
Of course, it’s incumbent upon us to respect the rights of property owners and to leave beaches at least as clean as they were when we landed.
I’ve no idea what laws apply to oceans, only the Great Lakes that surround Michigan.
In 2005 the Michigan Supreme Court upheld lower court rulings that allowed the general public to walk along our Great Lakes shorelines so long as they didn’t stray above the high water mark. It’s known as the “Beachwalker” case. All it allows is foot travel. It does not allow lounging, sunbathing, picnicking, playing games, camping, etc. without the permission of the property owner. There are plenty of parks for that so it hasn’t been an issue to my knowledge, at least here in the northern portion of Lake Michigan.
The Indiana case was based on objections to language in an ordinance, not any actions by beach walkers. The plaintiffs sold their lakefront property in 2015, before the case even got to the Indiana Supreme Court. Technically they had no legal standing at that time. In spite of that, the Indiana Supreme Court heard legal arguments on the basis it was in the public interest, then unanimously ruled against the plaintiffs. No idea why it was pursued to SCOTUS or who paid for that appeal.
Wholeheartedly agree with bnystrom that we should leave no trace, regardless of where we’re walking or paddling.
FWIW, riparian law relating to inland lakes is a different ballgame, at least in Michigan. Waterfront owners own not only the surface of their own property, but the bottom land of the lake to its center. Sort of a pie-shaped wedge in most cases.
Just a comment, a lot of people assume that private ownership always stops at the high water line on the ocean, whether it be created by tides or other related water action.
This is not universal. Maine’s laws say ownership of oceanfront property extends to the mean LOW tide line. There are a couple of funky purposes allowed for someone to land higher, which boil down to carrying a large paper chart to look at if you are paddling in highly developed southern Maine. Or a fishing pole or lobster trap, but the chart is easier to carry.
This is in contrast to at least one state around them, where the law says ownership only goes to the mean high tide line. So a visitor to Maine can easily be right at home and wrong a not-long distance away across a state line.
I am not sure what NY law says about inland lakes, but I think it is closer to what Rookie mentions on inland lakes there. I think lakefront property ownership extends a certain number of feet beyond the water line. Perhaps at some time it was meant to make it easier for someone to build a dock.
The State of Maine owns underwater property on inland lakes
Its calculated at mean low water I think
I live on a Maine lake and know that my ownership doesnt extend out from the shore
But there is a commercial campground and sometimes ill behaved people hang at a sandbar just off the property and I do tell them they are trespassing and I own the first 250 feet
Its a baldface lie but I am tired of their littering and degenerate behavior
They do fall for it
The OP comment is a State problem not federal and it ended where it should have. I think the plantifs were being a little , no a lot, over reacting about it. Of course we don’t know how close their house was to the beach. Most people build too close.
On the other hand I understand the annoyance of the public using water front property. I have fishermen using my dock to fish. Which I don’t basically mind. However, they come at low tide. They leave motors down. Come in and fish at low tide in the shallows. Usually in the summer. This creek gets hot in the summer the fish stay in the deep water two lots away. . The fish don’t come here in the summer, especially at low tide. The fishermen get hooks caught in my dock lines and can’t/won’t retrieve them cause they are too lazy or incapable of raising the motors, main and trolling, to get close enough. Somewhere I have pictures of the bloody damage to my hands. Best time to fish this dock is winter at high tide.