For many people, the ultimate dream is to live right on the ocean. For instance, in Florida or California, that would likely mean living directly on the beach. In Maine, that could mean a few different things. Maybe it's near a cliff on the ocean. Maybe it's just being within a stone's throw of it. Or, it could mean right on the beach.

It's not so easy to just draw a line in the sand.

Over the years, especially when I lived in southern Maine, there was often a lot of debate about how much of the beach is privately owned, and how much of it is open to the public. Face it, in a lot of places, you can start on a public beach, but if you keep walking, you're likely to end up walking in front of someone's house at some point.

I remember walking with a friend and her dog on a beach in Scarborough, and getting yelled at by someone who decided we were trespassing. But were we? If you live right down on the water, how much of that beach is yours? At my camp on the lake, it's pretty clear where ownership stops, but on the beach with changing tides, it's more messy.

Actually, you kind of can draw a line in the sand.

Most folks assume they own right down to the edge of the water. But, on the ocean, that means your property line kind of moves several times a day. In Maine, our beachfront property lines extend to the lowest water line. At low tide, you're a real estate mogul. At high tide, you feel like you just watched a bunch of your land disappear underwater.

So what's the deal?

In a nutshell, it works like this. The dry sandy area closest to a property is privately owned. So if you're walking down a long stretch of beach and are in front of a house, you can be in the wrong area if you get to close. Now, you can walk in the intertidal area. It's the spot between the high and low tide lines, but it's still private property. It has some "public rights" for fishing, etc.

Image via
Image via

Once you get to the low tide line and beyond out to the three mile marker, it's all part of the Maine public land trust ,so at that point, you're pretty much safe. But in those other two zones, you could be asked to leave someone's land. And there won't be much you can do.

If you like to walk on the beach, or walk your dog, or just hang out near the ocean breeze and soak it all in, these are legal, and not quite legal, ways you can do it. It is a bit of a wacky way of deciding property lines, but hey.... it's Maine. We're a nutty bunch. Especially when it comes to our beaches and oceans.

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