Governor Dan McKee signed shoreline access legislation into law Monday, in what’s being called a major victory for beachgoers in Rhode Island.

The new law outlines where members of the public are allowed to be along the shore, setting the boundary as up to 10 feet landward of the seaweed line. In the event there are two seaweed lines, the one closest to the water should be used, the law says. When no line is present, people should use the point where the wet sand meets dry sand, plus 10 feet.

State Rep. Terri Cortvriend sponsored the legislation in the House. She said the new law will help end confusion about where the public is allowed to be on the shore, benefiting everyone who uses Rhode Island’s shoreline.

“Their access will be protected now,” Cortvriend said. “Shoreline beachgoers, shoreline users, fishermen – they will all know where they can be. … Property owners will know, too, where people should be and where they shouldn't be.”

Cortvriend introduced a similar bill last year after a special House commission was formed to study the issue of lateral shoreline access. That proposal passed the House but failed to make traction in the Senate. This year, the legislation passed in both chambers with overwhelming support. 

Speaking shortly after hearing word of the governor’s signing, Cortvriend said, “I'd like to savor the moment for a few minutes.”

“I'm just – I'm thrilled,” she said. “I'm excited for Rhode Islanders.”

Rhode Island’s Constitution has long protected public use of the shoreline for things like seaweed gathering, walking, fishing, and leaving the beach to swim, but it doesn’t define the line where public rights end and private property rights can be enforced.

Prior to Monday, the state relied on a Rhode Island Supreme Court ruling from the 1980s that set the boundary as up to the 18.6-year mean high tide line. Beachgoers had complained that the boundary was too difficult to determine and ambiguity was being taken advantage of by beachfront property owners who were denying people of their shoreline rights, going so far as to put up private property signs and higher security guards.

Mike Woods, chair of the New England Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, was among the advocates who pushed for passage of the law. On Monday, he credited the sponsors in the House and Senate, including state Sen. Mark McKenney, who had been a member of the House commission, as well as the “tremendous number of organizations and individuals – really too many to name – who came together to make this happen.”

“The fact that the General Assembly came together and reached a consensus and then took the steps to put that into law is something that really no General Assembly has been able to accomplish in 300 years,” Woods said. “To see that come together, and then the governor sign it, is a huge and historic step for Rhode Island.”

The new law comes amid a surge in shoreline access advocacy, which took off during the pandemic, as beachgoers looked to get down to the shore and property owners stepped up efforts to keep people away from certain beach areas.

The legislation put forward this year had been opposed by coastal property owners who say the boundary outlined under the new law amounts to an illegal taking of their property without compensation. 

Advocates for shoreline access say the law is not an overreach. They’re confident it will stand up to a legal challenge because, they say, it’s consistent with historical use of the shore in Rhode Island.

Alex Nunes can be reached at