It's a discussion that's been taking place in Massachusetts coastline communities since colonial times: who actually owns the beach? Is it possible to have a private beach in Massachusetts, or does the public legally have a right to use them? Are homeowners allowed to put up "Private Beach" signs?

Many states allow public access to all beaches, but here in Massachusetts, things are a little bit different. According to, beach rights were so important to the new settlers that it was ranked 16th of the nearly 100 rules and regulations (laws) that were adopted in the Massachusetts Body of Liberties back in the mid-1600s:

Every inhabitant that is a householder shall have free fishing and fowling in any great ponds and bays, coves and rivers, so far as the sea ebbs and flows within the precincts of the town where they dwell, unless the Freemen of the same town or the General Court have otherwise appropriated them, provided that this shall not be extended to give leave to any man to come upon others property without their leave.

Basically, what this means is that beachfront property owners in Massachusetts own the beach all the way down to where the average low tide wets the sands. The law did make exceptions for hunters and fishermen, but otherwise, people needed to stay off of private beaches.

Current Massachusetts law really hasn't changed much. For instance, a Massachusetts law firm recently wrote an interesting piece about private beaches which advises that people are allowed to swim in the water, but they may not put their feet down and touch the sand underneath on someone's property.

However, if you are willing to go a little deeper (beyond the average low tide spot), it seems that you are free to walk along the beach no matter how private property owners feel about it. You'll have to get your feet wet, though.

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