Along the coast of Massachusetts there are hundreds of places to access sprawling sandy beaches, rocky coastline, pristine salt marshes, and bustling ports and harbors. This CZ-Tip focuses on coastal access in the Commonwealth, including public rights and responsibilities, public access sites, and environmental protection issues.
Coastal Access Rights in Massachusetts
In Massachusetts, the intertidal zone (the area between high and low water) is typically owned by the upland private property owner, with the following rights reserved for the public: fishing, fowling, and navigation. For more on the details of waterfront property law, see:
- Public Rights Along the Shoreline, an electronic fact sheet from Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM).
- The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection's (MassDEP) web page on Chapter 91, the Commonwealth's primary tool for protection and promotion of public use of tidelands and other waterways.
About 25 percent of the Massachusetts shoreline is publicly owned. For more on visiting some of these sites, see:
- CZM's Coast Guide, which includes a Google Earth mapping option and PDF maps.
- The Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program website for Public Access to Buzzards Bay and Its Shores.
- Information on the Office of Fishing and Boating Access (FBA), which maintains boat and canoe access sites at more than 200 locations on coastal waters, great ponds, and rivers throughout Massachusetts. Also, the FBA website provides a list of facilities that links to an interactive map for each site.
- CZM's Coastal Trails web page.
Coastal Access and a Clean Environment
Environmental quality is important to coastal public access to ensure safe swimming and fishing, and to maintain the aesthetic quality of the shoreline. For more on coastal water quality and how to protect the coastal environment when visiting the shore, see:
- The Massachusetts Department of Public Health Marine Beach Testing in Massachusetts web page.
- The Barnstable County Bathing Beach Water Quality web page for Cape Cod.
- The Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program Buzzards Bay Beaches & Contamination Info web page for a page on beach contamination, human health, and testing requirements in Massachusetts.
- A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) online fact sheet on beaches, watersheds, and water quality.
- An EPA web page with answers to frequently asked questions on beach water quality, health impacts, and water quality protection.
Other Interesting Beach and Access Information
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) maintains water temperature data for selected areas of the coast, including Boston Harbor and Woods Hole.
- The Maine Harbors website includes tide and weather information for the entire New England coast.
To visit some of the coastal locations from the comfort of your computer screen, check out this Coastal Web Cam page.