Maine has 5,400 miles of mainland and island shoreline. Some of that land is privately owned. How does that work?


According to Public Shoreline Access in Maine: A Citizen’s Guide to Ocean and Coastal Law, about 12% of all that shoreline is in public ownership.

This is so Maine! You can actually own part of the ocean. Maine describes it very well with a spiffy picture:

Landowners can own part of the beach and even the ocean. But (and it's an important but) the public has some rights to “fish, fowl, and navigate.” That's from colonial times! It's a very delicate legal balance between public interests and respecting private property.

It can get touchy and slightly ugly. In March 1989, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled on a conflict between public versus private rights to the shore in Maine over Moody Beach.  It was this case that has pretty much become the go-to reference for the conflict between public versus private rights to the shore in Maine. To boil it all down to the simplest form: the public has only very limited rights in the intertidal zone (see the chart above). Since the Moody Beach decision, access to the coast has been a bit of a sticky issue.

Public Shoreline Access
Public Shoreline Access

Are you on private property, but it's a beach? Don't set up your hot dog stand any time soon. There is an entire website dedicated to what you can and can't do. That's for both property owners and if you want to fish in that ONE particular area off the coast. It's Accessing the Maine Coast. I had no idea I had so many questions!

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