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
- 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:
- Massachusetts Coast Guide Online - To locate more than 1,900 sites along the Massachusetts coast that are owned by government agencies and nonprofits and open to the public, see this interactive mapping tool developed by CZM. This online viewer, which can be used on mobile phones, tablets, and desktop computers, highlights many public spots, such as rocky coasts, shore-side parks, local harbor walks, secluded coves, marshes and creeks, scenic overlooks, small rights-of-way, and much more.
- Massachusetts Coast Guide to Boston Harbor and the North Shore - This publication, last printed in 2005, includes nearly 400 public access sites from Salisbury to Hingham—ranging from expansive beaches to out-of-the-way scenic vistas. The online version includes 22 maps with site descriptions.
- Saltwater Ocean Beaches - This Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) site provides information on the state beaches located on the Atlantic Ocean, along with information on which beaches are made accessible with boardwalks, beach mat, and ramps.
- 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 Beach Water Quality 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) Water Topics web page that includes information on protecting watersheds and water quality.
- An EPA Beaches 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.
- The Surfrider Foundation: Massachusetts Chapter website provides information about local and state efforts to protect beach access and the natural resources of the marine and coastal environment.