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Use of State-Owned Waterways

The people of Oregon are the owners of the submerged and submersible land (“beds and banks”) underlying all navigable and tidally influenced waterways. In most cases, this ownership extends to the line of ordinary high water or high tide, but ownership can be mixed, even along the same waterway.  

The Department of State Lands is responsible for management of publicly owned submerged and submersible land. The public has rights to use the beds and banks of navigable waterways for any legal activity, such as boating, fishing and swimming, including pulling your canoe or kayak onto the bank.

Which waterways are state-owned?

The following water bodies have been determined to be navigable, and therefore state-owned, through legislative, judicial or administrative proceedings. 

Many Oregon waterways have not had a navigability determination, and therefore the ownership is unclear.

According to a 2005 Oregon Attorney General opinion, on waterways that have not been determined to be state-owned, the public is allowed to use the surface of the waterway for any legal activity unless the waterway isn’t wide, deep or long enough for a boat to pass along it.

Additionally, the opinion states that if the waterway meets the above criteria, the public has the right to use the submerged and submersible land below the line of ordinary high water for water-dependent uses (such as swimming, boating and fishing), and "uses incidental to a water-dependent use such as camping when travelling a long distance and walking while fishing." In cases of emergency or if it is necessary to travel around a barrier, the public may temporarily go above the line of ordinary high water. 

When using Oregon’s waterways: 

  • Always get the landowner’s permission to cross private land to get to the waterway
  • Be sure to launch and take out your boat at public facilities, such as parks
  • Avoid conflicts with landowners
  • If you see trash, pick it up and carry it out, but avoid trespass to do so
  • Obey laws and common rules of decency at all times

Uses of a state-owned waterway

The following are typical uses of state-owned submerged and submersible lands:
  • Houseboats
  • Boat ramps
  • Docks, floats and wharfs
  • Marinas and moorages
  • Marine industrial facilities
  • Bridges 
  • Utilities and pipeline crossings
  • Sand and gravel operations
  • Remedial cleanup
  • Non-water dependent commercial uses (restaurants for example)
Waterway Authorizations


Any of the uses described above require an authorization from the Department of State Lands. Authorizations include leases, licenses, easements, registrations and short-term access agreements. 

Note: A removal-fill permit may also be required from the Department for some structures.

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