Date of Award


Degree Type

Major Paper

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Marine Affairs


Population pressure in the coastal zone has greatly increased the demand for shore-based recreation. Many states have acknowledged this need and have used various methods to increase public access to the shoreline. In Massachusetts, however, these methods have met with little success due to extensive, both in terms of power and geography, private property rights along the shore. There is no single source of the law relating to shore ownership and public shore use in Massachusetts because the issue is grounded in the slowly-evolving commonlaw of the state. Consequently, few citizens in the Commonwealth understand the legal regime relating to shore lands. This paper will describe characteristics of Massachusetts' peculiar legal system relating to shore ownership and public rights in an attempt to clarify a complex situation. The history of the system will be examined to discover how Massachusetts' coastal law evolved and how it operates today. Once the regime is understood, later chapters will study various tools used in other states to open up the beaches for more public use and explain why many of them are of little value to Massachusetts.