There is a long history in the state of Washington that determines whether or not your particular waterfront property owns its beach out front, especially important on Puget Sound properties with their tidal ranges that can expose large tracts of beach at low tide. Who owns that land? You? The state? It depends.
The answer can be determined through a title search and a correct parcel map. There are properties throughout the Seattle region that fit into both categories: owning the beach, or not. The actual day to day usage of a beach in front of a waterfront property is frankly usually exactly the same whether the beach is owned or not: people without ownership still expect their beach to be quiet and well taken care of by strolling beach walkers, and most people with owned land let beach walkers go through their beach since the courtesy gets reciprocated and it allows the entire community to enjoy waterfront strolls. There are some famous exceptions, including people trying to (illegally) put fences up that become submerged at high tide, but they tend to be in remoter regions and you don’t see that around Seattle.
The Department of Natural Resources provides an informative guide to “Boundaries of State-owned Aquatic Lands” that explains many of these concepts, terms, and related waterfront property rights history. Here’s an excerpt from it:
“Fresh water, such as in lakes or rivers, or marine waters, such as in Puget Sound, are not owned by individuals. Water is managed by the state and protected for the common good. Generally, aquatic lands beneath these waters have been managed that way, too – since statehood.
On November 11, 1889, at statehood, Washington’s aquatic lands became stateowned lands under the Equal Footing Doctrine, which guaranteed new states of the Union the same rights as the original 13. Washington State, through Article XVII of its constitution, asserted ownership to the “beds and shores of all navigable waters in the state…” so that no one could monopolize the major means of transportation, trade or fishing areas. Some other states gave adjacent upland owners a “riparian” right to build over navigable waters, but Washington chose to be a “nonriparian” state – that is, it did not grant that right. It held that aquatic lands are owned by all the people of the state, not individuals.
Although owners of lands abutting stateowned aquatic lands did not receive “riparian” rights at statehood, for more than 80 years they could purchase tidelands or shorelands from the state. In 1971, the sale of the state’s aquatic lands was stopped by the state Legislature. Today, virtually all the bedlands of navigable waters are state owned, as are 30 percent of the tidelands and 75 percent of shorelands in the state. Nonnavigable bodies of water are not owned by the state, and are likely to be connected in title to the abutting upland property.”