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Seattle Area Sea Kayaking Meetup Group Message Board Seattle Area Sea Kayaking Meetup Group Discussion Forum › The regulations related to kayak camping on rivers

The regulations related to kayak camping on rivers

Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 173
I used to river canoe and camp with my parents when I was a kid, and I'd like to do it again, part of doing it is understanding where it's legal to land or to camp. One nice thing about Washington State, is that unlike most of the Westernn States it doesn't allow riparian rights.

Here's what I looked up:


Most of ours were used to move logs to the mills

List of navigable waters - includes Snoqualmie and Snohomish but not the

High water mark

12. What if the current property owner's deed reads to the middle of a
river, or seems to surround and include the river?

If the physical characteristics of the river are such that it meets the
federal test of title navigability, it is public land up to the ordinary
high water line. Since a deed can only convey interests actually owned by
the seller, and since the bed and banks of all navigable rivers passed to
the states at the time of statehood, it is likely that the state is the
true owner. The state's ownership is a "prior existing right" and is
frequently mentioned as such on deeds. Somewhere along the chain of
property transactions, a deed may have been changed to include the
riverbed. Unfortunately, if this happened it was likely done incorrectly.

In some states the property owner next to a river may have certain rights,
such as the right to construct a small dock that extends onto the public
land at the edge of the river.

Note that a determination that a river is navigable for title purposes is
not a "taking" of private property under the U.S. Constitution-the river
and the land along it were public land all along. A "taking" can only
occur if the land in question was clearly privately owned in the first

13. Who decides which rivers are navigable for title purposes?

The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that "rivers that are
navigable in fact are navigable in law." If a river is physically
navigable, it is legally navigable. No court or agency has to designate it
as such.

If there is a dispute about whether a river is navigable for title
purposes, only the federal courts can ultimately decide it, and that is a
lengthy, expensive process. The courts only consider a river when a legal
case arises-they don't go around rating rivers just to help get things
organized. Only a few rivers in the entire nation have had court
determinations. The rest of the rivers which are "navigable in fact",
i.e., physically navigable in small watercraft per the federal test, are
public land up to the ordinary high water line, even though most of them
do not have any official designation as such.

14. Can states create their own definition of navigability for title

No, it's a federal test, as explained earlier. State legislatures cannot
create their own definitions of navigability for title purposes, nor can
they direct state agencies to create their own definitions.

However, state legislatures and agencies can decide certain other river
use issues, as described later in this publication.

15. Can states sell or give away rivers, or riverside land?

Federal courts have held that the state does not simply own the river and
the riverside land, it holds it "in trust for the public." These court
decisions, taken together, are known as the Public Trust Doctrine. The
state holds the resources in trust for the benefit of all the people. The
general public has a right to fully enjoy these resources for a wide
variety of public uses including navigation, recreation, and fisheries.
The state cannot divest itself of these public-trust ownership.

The state can sell or lease pieces of land along a river, such as for
public or private docks, etc., but not the whole river. Such transactions
must be beneficial for use of the waterway. They cannot interfere with
public use of the overall waterway.

22. What about getting to and from the river?

Normally there is no right to cross private land to get to or from a river
(except perhaps in extreme cases as mentioned above.) For example, there
is no right to walk across a farmer's field to get from a public highway
to a river.

However, the state has a duty to maintain public access routes to rivers
under certain conditions, as part of its public trust duties. Courts have
found it unlawful for a state to close off an existing public access route
when there are not other public access routes nearby.

A common problem involves highway bridges over rivers. The river, if
navigable for title purposes, is public land up to the ordinary high water
mark, and the highway is public out to the edge of its right-of-way.
Usually there is enough space to legally park next to the highway near the
bridge. But the adjacent landowner may build an impassable fence up to the
bridge abutments and post "No Trespassing" signs on the fence, so people
can't get from the highway down to the river. This is unlawful; there is a
right of passage from the highway to the river. Courts have ruled that
when one public route meets or crosses another, there is a right to
proceed between the two.­

Washington is somewhat unique, having rejected the concept of riparian
rights with respect to the navigable waters to which it asserted title
under Article 17 of the state's constitution. Immediately following the
adoption of this state's constitution, the Washington Supreme Court was
asked to determine whether or not upland owners possess any riparian
rights with respect to navigable waters. In the 1891 case of Eisenbach v.
Hatfield, the court’s opinion was that the State of Washington rejected
the concept of riparian rights by the disclaimer clause in the
constitution and by providing a means for citizens to purchases tidelands
and shorelands abutting their property. The Court expressed that riparian
owners adjoining navigable waters have no special or peculiar rights and
to hold otherwise would deny the power of the state to deal with its own
property, as it may deem best for the public good. This concept has been
adhered to in a long line of the Washington Supreme Court cases that
indicate that a conveyance of tide or shorelands was in effect a
substitute for the abolition of riparian rights.
Martina M.
user 12963104
Seattle, WA
Post #: 7
Hey Saul, the doc listing which rivers are deemed "navigable" that you linked *does* include the Sky as navigable.

In addition, the preamble to the document says this:

"Waterways not contained on this list may or may not be navigable. There absence indicates
that no determination has been made by the Coast Guard, the courts, or by Congress concerning
their navigability. "
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