Water Rights and Docks: What To Know

March 04 2021

When discussing water rights and docks, one of the topics that will always come up is riparian rights. Riparian rights are a type of water rights awarded to you when you buy property situated along flowing bodies of water.  The body of water can be a river or stream, but you can only use the water rights as long as neighbors upstream or downstream are not harmed.

Riparian rights may also mean that you own the land beneath a non-navigable waterway to the exact center of the waterway. On the other hand, people who own property that borders large water bodies, such as navigable lakes and oceans, have littoral rights. Property owners have unrestricted access to the waters with these rights, but they only own land to the median high-water mark.

Riparian Rights And Dock Rights In Michigan

Dock rights are included in the riparian rights if the water is navigable. That means that you are allowed to have docks installed and boats permanently anchored on your riparian bottomlands. Your riparian bottomlands are the submerged lands that are adjacent to your property.  Any neighbor that installs a dock on your bottomlands is considered to be trespassing.

Most property owners know about riparian rights, but many do not understand how the bottomland ownership boundaries are divided among riparian owners. Riparian owners are the owners of properties that border a natural body of water. They find it hard to identify their upland property’s boundaries because only a few lakes have been subject to submerged land survey. Another reason is that it is difficult to get your riparian bottomland’s survey ratified by a circuit court judge.

For properties along a round lake, the underwater property lines stretch to the lake’s center. So, each riparian owner ends up with a pie-shaped wedge of underwater property.  If the body of water is not circular, the submerged property is determined through the thread line method.

Florida Water Rights and Docks

In Florida, riparian rights are the rights of bathing, fishing, egress, ingress, boating, and other activities defined by the law. Ingress is the right to enter a property, while egress is the right to exit a property.  These rights apply to people who own property on land bordering navigable water depths and those who do not own property directly adjacent to navigable waterways but near them.  These property owners have the right to install a dock (wharf out) on navigable waters in the absence of a statute.

You should know that applicable local, state, and federal regulations impose restrictions on the length of docks for reasons such as protecting the environment. Additionally, the Florida constitution does not give riparian owners a right over the submerged lands adjacent to their property. Whether or not you own submerged lands is within the discretion of the Florida Legislature.

As far as dock rights are concerned, building a dock on the submerged lands adjacent to your property is considered a privilege, not a right.

To learn more about water rights and docks in Michigan, Florida or any other area, research court cases involving trespass issues on riparian land in the specific location.

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