Massachusetts ocean lovers take note! Important legislation to update our state’s outdated beach access laws has just been filed on Beacon Hill by Rep. Dylan Fernandes and Sen. Julian Cyr.
You can help Surfrider MA improve public access to the coast for all people by contacting your own elected state representatives and asking them to co-sponsor ‘An Act Relative to Recreation on Private Tidelands’ H.908 / S.511 (Formerly Docket Numbers HD.3191 / SD.1381). More details below.
A Bit of Background
Beach access in every state is guided by the ‘Public Trust Doctrine’ which has its origins in ancient Roman law and holds that all rights in the tidelands (between the high and low tide marks) and the water itself are held ‘in trust’ by the state for the benefit of the public, regardless of private land ownership.
Despite this, Massachusetts has some of the oldest and most restrictive beach access laws in the country. Our current laws are rooted in the ‘Colonial Ordinances of 1641-1647’ and generally prohibit beachgoers from accessing any private beach above the low tide mark without permission of the property owner. In most other coastal states, property owners are significantly restricted from limiting public access below the mean high tide mark.
Current Massachusetts law does specifically reserve public access to private tidelands for 3 purposes: fishing, fowling, and navigation.
2021 Legislative Remedy
The proposed 2021 remedy – ‘An Act Relative to Recreation on Private Tidelands’ (H.908 / S.511) – is simple, minimally invasive, and effective. If passed, it will add ‘recreation’ as a specifically allowed public use of private tidelands by updating the definition of ‘private tidelands’ in MA state law to be:
“Private tidelands”, tidelands held by a private party subject to an easement of the public for the purposes of recreation and navigation and free fishing and fowling and of passing freely over and through the water.”
This expansion of legal public shoreline use will benefit all beach and ocean lovers in Massachusetts!
Please contact your state legislators and ask them to co-sponsor ‘An Act Relative to Recreation on Private Tidelands’ (Bill Numbers H.908 and S.511).
You can use your address to find contact information for your own State Representative and State Senator using the ‘Find My Legislator’ tool.
If you’d like a bit of help on what to say, we’ve also created a script and some ideas on talking points for when you call or email.
Finally, please widely share what you’ve learned about this issue using your own networks! Share this information and ask friends and neighbors (especially those in your district) to reach out also!