Beach access/tresspassing

Given the recent conversation about exploring new places, I'm curious about what parts of a beach are and aren't accessible once we get to the public access point.

I live in a place where some access points seem to be 25' wide with POSTED signs on both sides. I've heard some folks say that anything below mean tide is public and screw the property owner, whereas others say that certain tidelands are grandfathered into their title and unless you can outrun a 12 gauge, don't think about it. As my wife will attest to, if there isn't a clear set of written instructions, I'm inclined to do as I please. However, I'm not looking to give any of us a bad name.

Now I'm no dumbass; I won't take a break in your adirondack chairs, I won't leave trash on your bulkhead, nor will I break any other law that I might have 15 years ago. So, how do we all legally scout out new territory, on foot, in a manner that doesn't give us a bad name?
Move to Oregon (or don't, we have no jobs here, pass it on!). In the state of Oregon, all ocean beaches (defined as the land from the vegetation line, survey line, or line of established vegetation whichever is most landward to high water mark of the Pacific Ocean) are considered public lands. Get public access to a beach, and walk as far as you want w/o trespassing. Not sure what the situation is in WA.

Ed Call

Well-Known Member
Jason, I do not know for certain, but there are several different sets of property rights on beaches around here. Some home owners own to the high water mark, others to the mean and some into the tidelands. One neighborood on the canal is private well into the water and is posted no trespassing. Some others are not the same way. I remember reading several threads about this topic sometime last year. Drege them up in the search function. I know a few anglers here that have said they have never been hassled by homeowners while others reference the same places and getting run off. Personally I have found that if I'm in or along the water that no one has ever hassled me in areas that are not posted. In posted areas I have just stayed away or fished from a boat toward their beach.
From what I understand (which isn't much) most tidal property is privately owned to the mean low tide, which is quite a ways out there. Honestly, I haven't walked much on private beaches, but know of some that I've been to by boat that I would love to access from the land side. I would think I would be run off though, knowing how scary I can look! :eek:

Milt Roe

Active Member
In the salt there are both public and private tidelands below private upland property. Many private tidelands extend out to the extreme low tide line. Others to the mean low tide. Private tideland owners own the clams and oysters in their beach, but not the fish or birds above their beach. You can not take shellfish or firewood or otherwise alter their private property. The law isn't clear whether the public has a right to travel across private tidelands. Old common law is often cited as justification for public traversing of private tidelands, but my understanding is that there is no clear answer from a legal standpoint on this. Some private tidelands are posted and aggressively defended, other tideland owners allow public traveling or fishing across their property. It is always best to ask when in doubt, as there are some real assholes out there. And during busy times like pink season, it can be a real pain for the tideland owners to put up with the litter, noise, and other nonsesne that the minority of anglers bring to their usually tranquil setting. So be considerate and clean up after yourself.
Use the Kitsap GIS/parcel search ( explore around Kitsap. It's pretty user friendly and you can see images of where the property lines are. Washington's ocean beaches are public below the high water mark but most of the inner sound is private well below that line. A small boat is the best solution to avoiding private property issues in my opinion. Jason - you're welcome to borrow my 10 foot rowboat sometime here on the island. Feel free to give me a call.

842 4595


Active Member
when each state became part of the union, they were granted rights to all tide lands as well as the beds of all rivers. each state did its own thing from that point forward. oregon retained ownership even though some property deeds claim the land owners own the river beds, they don't. in washington, the state legislature gave away the tidelands and river beds to the property owners. the only exceptions i am aware of are public lands in washington which you can freely access. some property owners seem intent on making the point that the tidelands are their private property, others seem less concerned with keeping folks out. the best approach would be to respect the sinage and move along. i believe, but am not certain, the extent of private property goes to low low water, not mean high water. that is a very long way out as you can see when the tides get to -2.5

Go Fish

Language, its a virus
As a salt waterfront owner (105 feet low bank + tidelands) we have
never had an issue with people trespassing on our beach.
This is due to the fact there is no public access in the area for
strangers to get to the water. I fish the beach about a half mile in
each direction of my place.....of course I know the owners
of the properties I'm walking on and have asked if it was Ok with
them first. If there was a public access near by I bet that we would
be much more protective of who could use our beach front.



Active Member
The Shoreline Management Act places rivers flowing over 20 CFS up to the mean high water mark under the Public Trust Doctrine. Private ownership of underlying land does not supersede the public trust. The SMA includes laws for beaches but I'm not sure what they are-- you can look it up on the website.
We own 150 feet of tideland in Dash Pt. That extends to the "mean low tide line" which in our case is a long way out but property owners don't mind, for the most part, if you ask and you don't trash up their beaches. It's always best to ask, make a friend, and carry out what you take in. Give them a fish now and then, too.

Milt Roe

Active Member
A lot of tideland owners don't really understand what they do own and presume that it includes everything out in front - Many like Steve own to the mean low tide line, which is a 0.0 tide. In that situation a minus tide will expose public tideland below the private tidelands, but there will typically be an uncertain boundary line separating the two since determining exactly where the mean low tide line is on any given beach is very difficult.

To further confuse things there are a lot of propoerty deeds that don't clearly define the lateral tideland property boundaries, instead using lauguage like "including tidelands situated in front of and adjacent to...". There is no Washington statute law that determines how lateral tideland boundaries are defined. Lots of disputes arise over this, particularly where a curving shoreline is involved.
A point of interest: If you check the tide books for the mid two weeks of August, there are several minus tides in the morning. That exposes beach, obviously, but it also means a lot of moving water which I have found is the best time to catch Pink salmon. Those two weeks have been the best for me in the past four years.

Michael Thompson

the flavor of BADFISH
im glad someone brought this up. if the property line goes out to the low tide mark your still trespassing if your bobbing around on a boat... which has always confused the heck out of me.

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