As a state with liberal recreation laws that favor the public use of our inland waterways and lake access, whether thru approved road end launches, Department of Natural Resources maintained boat launches, or public and private marina complexes, Michigan is unique. The issue of how and where to store your watercraft seasonally on the water is an entirely different matter altogether.

In previous articles, we have discussed the incidental benefits of riparian ownership and the fact that one generally does not need a Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (“EGLE”) permit for: benefits like the installation of a seasonal, non-permanent dock, and reasonable small water withdrawals for uses such as lawn care and cleaning of the riparian property. We have also discussed riparian rights that one does need permitting for, including the installation of a permanent dock. Now, we will consider the issue of the State of Michigan’s position on when a dock becomes a marina.

The seasonal, non-permanent dock a riparian owner may generally install on their property without a permit falls under the following exception as: “A seasonal structure placed on bottomland to facilitate private, noncommercial recreational use of the water if it does not unreasonably interfere with the use of the water by others entitled to use the water or interfere with flow.”

The laws of Michigan define a marina as a facility that is owned or operated by a person and extends into or over an inland lake or stream, offering service to the public or members of the marina for docking, loading, or other servicing of recreational watercraft.

It would seem, then, that so long as the use of a temporary seasonal, or permanent private dock is not open to the public at large, it should not be classified as a marina. However, consider this argument in the contexts of jointly-owned private property, such as private subdivision parks, condominiumized land, and lands dedicated to a subdivision in its plat. This, however, is not EGLE’s position on what constitutes a marina.

In sum, EGLE’s position is that if a dock is not being used for the exercise of riparian rights by a single residential family on residentially-zoned property, then that other use is considered a marina and requires a permit. Critical to EGLE’s interpretation of what constitutes a marina is EGLE’s position that users of the previously mentioned common interest properties qualify as the “public”, even though, in many cases, common interest properties have been harmoniously engaging in shared dock usage for the better part of a century. If you need help navigating the marina permitting process, contact us at info@linnellfirm.com.