• What protects your right to stroll and enjoy public facilities along the coastal water's edge and the adjacent environment?
  • What ensures your right of public access to fish and bird-watch on the multitude of inland Great Ponds and coastal beaches throughout our Commonwealth?
  • What preserves your opportunity to get to the water's edge to kayak, canoe, and boat in our many streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, and coastline?

The Public Waterfront Act (Chapter 91) preserves and protects your right to enjoy our state's tidelands, Great Ponds, and waterways, and guarantees that private uses of these resources do not hinder these purposes. This is an outgrowth of the "public trust doctrine," a legal principle dating back to the Roman Empire, which holds that common natural resources - the air, the sea and the shore - belong not to any one person, but rather to the public at large; a principle which was codified in the "Colonial Ordinances" of the Massachusetts Bay Colony during the 1640s. Chapter 91 itself was established by the Massachusetts Legislature in 1866.

MassDEP serves as the public's steward by administering Chapter 91 through the Waterways Program, which issues licenses with conditions and authorizations to ensure that public access to waterways for navigation, recreation, and other purposes is preserved and that existing water-dependent business operations are protected. The program issues permit conditions for water-dependent and non-water-dependent projects proposed for development in areas under the law's jurisdiction. For more information on how Chapter 91 authorization works, see "Chapter 91, The Massachusetts Public Waterfront Act."

In the past decade, MassDEP's Waterways Program incorporated into private projects more than 8 miles of waterfront walkways, 29 acres of waterfront open space, 13 public boat landings, 18 public restrooms, 6 water transportation terminals (e.g., for ferries and water shuttles), 12 bike racks, 6 public meeting rooms near the Massachusetts waterfront that have been made available to YOU. If you have visited a waterfront or waterbody in Massachusetts, it is likely that your rights are protected under the Chapter 91 program.

This web page introduces four outstanding public-access projects along our coast. See the individual project pages at right or by clicking on the points in the map below.


Visit These Places

Four significant Chapter 91 projects are featured. To find a project to visit near you, select from the list to the right.