Published on:

Public Access Rights to Coastal Areas in Rhode Island: What You Need to Know

Rhode Island’s stunning coastline is a treasured resource for both residents and visitors. However, ensuring that everyone has equitable access to these beautiful coastal areas can sometimes be a complex issue. The State of Rhode Island has released public guidelines to explain the interplay between public access rights and the private property rights of coastal landowners.

Rhode Island’s legal framework recognizes individual rights when it comes to coastal access. Citizens of Rhode Island have several rights, including fishing from the shore, swimming in the Sea, gathering seaweed, and passing along the shore. Sometimes the exercise of these rights is not desirable to the property owners adjacent to the shore, and conflict over what access is required or permitted occurs often.

One common source of confusion is discerning public areas from private ones. In Rhode Island, the public has the right to access the beach seaward of the mean high water mark. This mark is distinct from the high tide mark, which is important to understand. According to the State Constitution (Article 1, Section 17), the public also has the right to lateral access, which allows them to move along the shore without specific mention of the difference in the mean high water mark, however many common shore-adjacent activities allowed under these laws primarily take place above the mean high tide line, and it’s crucial to respect these boundaries.

Erosion poses another challenge when discussing public and private access. The dynamic nature of beaches means that property lines fluctuate due to natural processes like erosion and accretion (sand deposition). Property owners who apply for fencing for erosion control or dune restoration must ensure that fencing remains 15 feet from the dune crest. After significant storms, this distance may change. However, it’s essential to note that CRMC permits stipulate that fencing should not block lateral access.

Installing fencing and posting private property signs on the beach is a regulated activity. These actions require permits from the CRMC (Coastal Resources Management Council). Importantly, preventing lateral access is prohibited, and property owners must ensure that their actions do not impede public access to the shore.

Rhode Island Property Owners Can Protect their Property While Honoring Public Access Requirements

Although the interplay between public access rights and private ownership rights can be contentious, property owners can take steps to protect their land from trespassing members of the public. The experienced Rhode Island property lawyers at Bilodeau Capalbo, LLP can assist property owners by advising and representing them on the legally acceptable ways to restrict access and activity on their property. If you have a question about coastal property rights, reach out today for a free consultation. Our lawyers represent people in Rhode Island in all types of property issues. If you have questions about a Rhode Island property law issue, we’re here to help. Call us at 401-300-4055 to schedule a consultation.

Contact Information