beach rights & property access issues

Puget sound has many homes on the shorelines including high & low bank access. The question as to whether or not a property located on the waterfront has actual private beach rights is questionable. I have heard arguments regarding mean tide lines & navigable water rights, but does anyone have any facts on the issue?
I was fishing today on a beach I have been fishing for 3 years now. Today I was casting on a part of the beach with a high cliff wall behind me ( about 60 feet high). There are stairs leading up the cliff so obvoiusly the property owner has access to the beach via these stairs.
I noticed an old guy watching me from the stairs & I waved.
-No response other than a turned back as he walked away.
A few minutes later I noticed a rock hit the water 20 feet to my left, a moment later another... 20 feet to my right. obvoiusly the old turd was chucking rocks at me! What a freak!
I walked down the beach to avoid confrontation, but it seems like if there are multiple houses along the shoreline who is to say that I am not a resident there?
The beach is relatively flat & low tide will expose at least 100 feet of cobbled beach so it is not like I am on anyones front lawn.
More importantly I wondered if anyone could shed some light on property owners rights who live along the beach are strictly allowed on only their section of beach or, is it considered trespassing if I walk the length of the beach? My brother's house is among many on the shoreline so I have an open invite to be there, but is that restricted only to that section which is directly in front of his house?
Usually folks are very nice & like to watch me fly-fish but this was an unusual circumstance, and I do feel since I was invited to be on the beach that wandering around is not a trespassing situation?

salt dog

card shark
Fish, beach rights are a convoluted story that fills many books.

This is very very general. In short, the right of a property owner to prohibit access to the beach in front of adjacent waterfront property depends upon that property owner's deed to the property. Old deeds frequently granted tideland rights. Early last century the State took over all right to un-deeded tidelands and shorelands, prohibiting any further conveyance to private parties, retaining all rights to the public. If the original deed was obtained prior to the date of that statute, likely it included shoreland and tideland rights with it. So, to make a determination as to whether someone can legally kick you off the waterfront you would need to look at the deed on file at the County Recorder's office to see if it included shoreland or tideland rights. While that isn't conclusive as to their entitlement to the lands, if it is absent they own only to the average high tide line. As long as you stay below that line you are legally entitled to fish and cross over the waterfront beach, as long as you otherise accessed it lawfully (not trespassed). Good luck with your research.
I think that in many places property rights extend to the mean low water level...

Even so, sounds like the guy was a dick. I can understand his concern for lots of people taking advantage of the beach, but unless you post the coordinates of the location on WFF, I think his beach will remain unscathed. If your bro is freinds with him you should have him talk to the guy and tell him that you at least know someone in the neighborhood. People tend to be more friendly when they know you.


Active Member
salt dog, do you have any idea when the state took this action?? i have a friend who just this last year purchased a property on whidby. his deed does grant tideland riparian rights. i will ask him when the deed was originally filed but this is obviously way confusing for those fishing as well as the land owners themselves. i can see how this could lead to unneeded confrontations that would be too bad for all concerned.


Team Infidel
I have tried to answer this same question myself recently.

If you do a Google search under Washington State tideland trespassing law, there is a blog titled "Hey get off my property." There is a discussion by someone who appears to have some legal backround and gives a very detailed answer to your problem.

After coming to my own conclusions on this and not feeling good about trespassing to my honey hole, I finally looked up the owners information and contacted him about gaining access. I now have a guilt free place to fish the salt 10 minutes from my home and the respect of the property owner for calling to ask.

You might try this next time before you go. Ignorance is not bliss.

Good luck.

Wet Wade

New Member
A quote from the Washington Real Estate Law book -

Riparian Rights, Navigable Waters

"All navigable waterways in the US are owned and controlled by the federal or state government. When land borders on an ocean, sea, or navigable lake or river, the property owner only owns the land above the mean high water mark. Land below the high water mark and all lake or river beds of navigable waters are owned by the government.

There is a public easement for right-of-way on all navigable waters, which means that the public has the right to use the waterways for transportation. The public also has the right to make reasonable use of the surface of the water (for swimming and boating, for example) unless specifically prohibited. A landowner who owns property bordering navigable waters may also apply for a permit that would allow him or her to use a certain specified amount of water for a designated beneficial purpose."

Don't know if this helps, it's just what the book says.

salt dog

card shark
Adopted November 11, 1889.
Washington State Constitution
SECTION 1 DECLARATION OF STATE OWNERSHIP. The state of Washington asserts its ownership to the beds and shores of all navigable waters in the state up to and including the line of ordinary high tide, in waters where the tide ebbs and flows, and up to and including the line of ordinary high water within the banks of all navigable rivers and lakes: Provided, that this section shall not be construed so as to debar any person from asserting his claim to vested rights in the courts of the state.

Public Ownership
The extent of public ownership on any particular piece of state-owned tidelands varies depending upon the date the uplands were patented, i.e., transferred from government to private ownership.

For tidelands where the uplands were patented prior to statehood (November 11, 1889), the private upland ownership extends to the mean high water line or to the meander line, whichever is further seaward. Uplands patented by the United States after November 11, 1889 extend to the line of mean high water.

For an interactive map as to public tidelands:
Thank you for your response on this sensitive issue. Land & property is always a touchy & emotional issue for folks. Especially if you have paid a fortune for waterfront property.
I guess it all boils down to human emotion as far as the feeling that you actually "own" the land.
The land has been here for a long time & will remain long after we are gone.
I have not blatently walked across or even near anyones lawn or formal yard space so I honestly do not feel I have imposed.
I will continue to fish my favorite beach, and my brother suggested wearing a helmet to protect my head from the old fart who threw rocks near me.:thumb:


Active Member
thanks salt dog, that is one clear piece of writing. i'll be we could go into business publishing that on a small laminated card that all saltwater fisher folks could carry on theri person. might serve to defuse confrontations. and i agree, there is zero need to go up into someones beach front yard/lawn, tide line seems to be a pretty easy demark to understand.


Left handed Gemini.
I know from my own searches that there are places where the land way beyond the lowest low is private so far out that it would be impossible to even legally walk on the bottom using scuba gear without the owners permission, sure the water belongs to us all but to think you can access any beach below the high tide mark would be incorrect. I think that doing the searches and politely asking for permission if there is any question what so ever is the only way to go. Maybe a introduction and a beer would be of more use than a hardhat.

salt dog

card shark
Tony is absolutely right.
For many years the State of WA sold or leased tidelands as a revenue producer, until about 1969 when that practiced ceased. Especially in oyster country, the flats may be owned privately, or leased with exclusive rights to walk on the tidelands.

Because of the extensive research required to determine with certainty whether or not the upland owner can legally kick you off, have you arrested for trespass, or is just bluffing, knocking on a door with a liquid peace offering in hand and making the inquiry is the fastest and easiest way to get access. And most fun. Frequently, you also pick up a lot of information about the best way to fish the area as well. Bringing a trash bag with you to bring out beach trash can also make a lasting favorable impression.

Ken Hunter

This has been a hot issue for me for several years. I don't think the land owner has the right to block simple access along the beach.

I don't have any problem with the land owner having the right to the shell fish, etc. I don't have a problem with any legal buildings, docks, etc.

The public should not have the right to illegal access or any other illegal activity such a littering, building a fire, urinating front of their front room window, etc.

As tax payers we pay a lot of money to maintain the water quality in front of their property. We pay a lot to clean the beach from oil spills, dead whales, etc. We don't send the land owner down to Home Depot to buy their own cleaning supplies.

Washington is the only western state that does not allow the public basic access and the right to recreate along any saltwater beach that they have legal access too. Our state is balled up in legal issues as outlined in proir threads. Our politicians don't tackle any sensitive issues. The is no big money behind issues like this and they are all afraid of their own shadow.


Bob Triggs

Stop Killing Wild Steelhead!
This same access issue made it through the courts back east, in New York and New England, Even the Kennedys fought this and they lost- the beach is open to passage across now. You still have to have legal access from landward though, you cant trespass. But there are many new access and parking sites adjacent to public access now.When I was a kid they had barbed wire fences running right out across the beach and into the water hundreds of yards and well below the water and past mean low water and even low low water. We kids were always getting in trouble over climbing past that line of defense on our low tide walks.

So it is possible. Look up The Public Trust Doctrine. That's how it all got started, mostly by fishermen too. It is listed on the US Coast Guard website somewhere. I think we can also search that here and I remember Jason Baker positing on it under similar threads, There are numerous similar Topic threads with solid lnks on this issue here.

I caretake a private property during the winter out here. They have WA titled deed to private shellfish tidelands along threir property. They pay WA taxes to that effect as well. Per WA law that entitles them to exclusive access to low low water and no one can pass across their boundaries legally if they dont want them to. The beach and bottom within their boundaries is private land. The law requires the boundaries be posted. They have it posted. People still trespass. People also sometimes destroy the signs. They ask them to leave. Sometimes they call the Sherriff. People have been arrested on the property for not leaving when asked to do so. They get booked and the judge fines them. They have a record for that then. It's pretty simple. As the caretaker I have had to ask walking and wading fishermen to leave when they are trespassing. Sometimes they are pretty darned rude about it. I try to be polite. It's not a fun thing to do.

Personally I would like to see all waters below high water, riparian or tidal, lakes etc, as public acess for the entire nation. It would be so much simpler.

Ken Hunter

It won't happen in Washington untill a well connected group gets behind it. The group would have to have the general public's interest in mind, not the good of their favorite politician. Its my opinion that the law can be fixed only though the initiative process because the average joe that wants to use the beach has no clout in Olimpia.

Oregon, California and Hawaii have it right. Washington is governed by the big money along the beach.


salt dog

card shark
Ken Hunter said:
....Washington is governed by the big money along the beach.
You only have to look as far as the rail road tracks up and down all of the Eastern side of the North Puget Sound beaches to figure that out.

Support WFF | Remove the Ads

Support WFF by upgrading your account. Site supporters benefits include no ads and access to some additional features, few now, more in the works. Info

Latest posts