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Know the Law: Mooring Placement on Unregulated Lakes

Written by: Katelyn E. Burgess

Published in the Union Leader (7/4/2021)

Q: I recently purchased lakefront property in New Hampshire and want to place a mooring adjacent to my shoreline. I’ve been told that moorings on this lake are not regulated by the State. Does that mean I can drop a mooring wherever I want?

A: While moorings are regulated on several of New Hampshire’s most-populated lakes (including Winnipesaukee and Ossipee), mooring permits are not required on many public bodies of water in the state. In the absence of explicit regulation, use of New Hampshire water resources is still governed by two important legal concepts: public trust and littoral rights.

Under New Hampshire law, the State holds natural bodies of water with an area of 10 acres or more in trust for the use and benefit of the public. Members of the public are entitled to reasonably use state-owned waters for various activities, including boating, swimming, fishing, and skating.

In addition to public use privileges, you have rights superior to the general public as a shorefront property owner with respect to the waters adjacent to your shoreline. These incidental property rights are referred to as littoral rights and include the right to access, use, and occupy adjacent waters for recreational purposes, and the right to build docks in the water for personal or commercial use provided you obtain the necessary permits in advance from the N.H. Department of Environmental Services.

Pursuant to the public trust doctrine, the State holds title to all public waters up to the high water mark and your claim to the land ends at the shoreline. Although you have rights to use and occupy the waters adjacent to your shoreline, the State has authority to limit how you exercise your littoral rights in the interest of navigation, health, safety, and other public concerns.

While dropping a mooring adjacent to your shoreline likely falls within the scope of your littoral rights, you should ensure that the mooring’s location will not “unreasonably” interfere with the public’s use of the lake or the littoral rights of abutting shorefront property owners. What constitutes an “unreasonable” interference is a question of fact and largely depends on your individual circumstances. For example, placement of a mooring may be unreasonable if it impedes navigation, interferes with an abutter’s access to and use of their own docks and moorings, creates safety hazards in swim areas, or completely obscures an abutter’s view.

Depending on the scope of the interference, abutters may be entitled to injunctive relief and/or damages if your mooring substantially and unreasonably interferes with the use and enjoyment of the waters adjacent to their property.

Katelyn Burgess can be reached at [email protected].

Know the Law is a bi-weekly column sponsored by McLane Middleton.  Questions and ideas for future columns should be emailed to [email protected].  Know the Law provides general legal information, not legal advice.  We recommend that you consult a lawyer for guidance specific to your particular situation.

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