A.    Waterfront Titles in the State of Washington.

Appendix A
Waterfront Titles in the State of Washington


Another area where misconceptions abound is in the question of how property lines extend out into the tidelands or shorelands, assuming they have been conveyed by the State. These boundary lines are commonly termed "lateral lines."

Note that tidelands or shorelands are usually conveyed to the abutting upland owner, and the lateral lines in such cases would normally extend out over the submerged lands from a point on the shoreline where the upland boundary intersected. However, such submerged lands can be owned by someone other than the abutting upland owner, and the lateral lines between adjoining owners of such submerged lands may have no relationship to the boundaries of the upland parcel.

A waterfront owner is not allowed to unilaterally project the upland boundaries out into the tidelands or shorelands. To do so might deprive either that owner or a neighbor of tidelands or shorelands to which one would be entitled under our Supreme Court decisions.

There are no statutes defining the direction of these lateral lines through tidelands or shorelands. Neither is there any helpful language in the original deeds of these lands from the State of Washington. The deeds simply convey all tidelands or shorelands, for example "...all tidelands of the second class lying in front of and abutting Government Lot 3, Section [ ], Township [ ] North, Range [ ] East, W.M."

To find what rules might apply, we turn to decisions by our State Supreme Court for interpretation of the word "abutting." The basic rule, where the beach is a relatively straight line, would be that the lateral lines are projected into the water at right angles to the line of ordinary high tide (in the case of tidelands) or to the line of ordinary high water (in the case of shorelands). See Diagram No. 7.

The Supreme Court has applied a different rule where the properties are on a cove. In such a situation, the right angle rule does not usually provide an equitable division of the submerged lands to the abutting waterfront owners. In one case the court set out a method for projecting the lateral lines on a cove which makes a much fairer distribution of submerged lands. The technique involves connecting the property line at the shore line to proportionate lengths of frontage at the line of extreme low tide (for tidelands conveyed after 1911; mean low tide for tidelands conveyed earlier) or the line of navigability (for shorelands). See Diagram No. 8.

Of course, an owner of upland property which includes the abutting submerged lands and which is large enough to be divided into smaller parcels is free to subdivide the property, including submerged lands, and delineate the specific locations of the interior lateral lines. In Diagram No. 9 a developer has laid out such a waterfront plat, in which the direction of the lateral lines of the interior lots have been fixed without applying the usual rules from our court decisions. Note, however, that the exterior boundary lines (that is, on either end of the entire submerged lands parcel) cannot be fixed without agreement and conveyance with the adjoining submerged land owners.

A title insurer generally cannot insure an owner of any waterfront property, no matter what the configuration of the shoreline, as to the location of the lateral lines unless:

1.    there has been a court decree establishing the location of such lines (which decree would also presumably confirm the title of each owner in the respective portions on either side of the lines), or

2.    a plat created by a common owner, or

3.    an agreement has been entered into by the adjoining owners establishing the mutual lateral boundaries.

Such an agreement must also, of course, include mutual conveyance between the owners to actually confirm title according to the agreed upon boundaries.


All boundaries of water are assumed to be navigable unless a court has determined otherwise. This would be true even if the water was not shown on the Government Survey and/or no meander lines were shown on that survey, and/or the adjoining uplands are not described as government lots.

With respect to the beds of known non-navigable lakes, they are submerged lands but are not shorelands, and the State of Washington has no interest in them. Such beds are owned by the adjoining property owners.

Where all of the land surrounding a small, non-navigable lake is owned by one person, that person also owns the bed of the lake. However, when there are multiple owners around the lake, the rules for lateral lines are not as clearly drawn by court decisions as they have been for tidelands and shorelands. Property owners on such lakes may agree to each own an undivided interest in the entire lake. In some cases they have divided the bed of round lakes by making pie-shaped connections to the center of the lake. Each owner, then, would have fee title to the pie-shaped parcel of the bed of the lake that adjoined the upland parcel. See Diagram No. 10.

On non-navigable lakes that are not round, abutting waterfront owners have generally developed common sense allocations of the beds using center lines along the long lengths of the lake. See Diagram No. 11.

(Ord. 2013-45s4 § 3 (part), 2015)