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Can I Use That Beach?

Are you lucky enough to live by the bay, or are you heading to a coastal town for vacation? You may find yourself strolling down a beach, only to encounter a private property or no trespassing sign in front of a residence. Can you keep going?

Property owners’ control typically stops at the high tide line or, in a very few cases, the low tide line.

Maryland, like many states, follows the public trust doctrine, which means that certain water bodies and their shores are held in trust by the state for the benefit of the public. This doctrine ensures that the public has the right to access and use tidal beaches for activities such as swimming, fishing, and recreational enjoyment.

High-water mark - The shoreline of a sea reached by the water at high tide.

Low-water mark - The shoreline of a sea marking the edge of the water at the lowest point of the ordinary ebb tide. In a river, the point to which the water recedes at its lowest stage.

On most U.S. shorelines, the public has a time-honored right to “lateral” access. This means that people can move down the beach along the wet sand between high and low tide – a zone that usually is publicly owned.

This means that at some point in the daily tidal cycle there is usually a public beach to walk along, albeit a wet and sometimes narrow one. In states such as Maine that set the boundary at mean low tide, you have to be willing to wade.

Lateral beach access does not allow you to use any private dock, or permit cutting through the owner’s private property to get to the beach.

Maryland Riparian Rights are often balanced against the public interest in accessing and using navigable waterways for activities such as fishing, boating, and swimming. This means that while waterfront property owners have certain rights related to the water adjacent to their property, these rights must be balanced against the public's right to use and enjoy the water as well.


Takeaway: When using any beach, follow the rules about pets, alcohol use, and park hours. If you are on a public beach that adjoins a private beach, only use the private beach below the high tide mark. Be considerate and leave nothing behind but sand, water and shells.


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