River Rights & Usage

Where can I paddle?

All public freshwater lakes are open to paddlers. So are many streams, but the laws are more complicated.

Indiana rivers that have been designated by statute as "navigable" are open to paddlers. “Navigable” rivers and their river beds are held in trust by the State of Indiana and can be used by the public. Find a navigable river near you.

On streams that don’t have a navigable designation but have a history of continuous, long-term usage, the public can seek a "prescriptive easement" designation through the courts. The bed remains in private ownership, but the public may use the surface of the stream for paddling.

What does navigable mean?

The traditional law of navigability in Indiana says that a river is navigable if it could have been employed for commercial boat traffic when Indiana became a state in 1816. Read more.

What if a conflict arises?

A landowner along a river that has not been declared navigable by statute or by a court decision may claim that the public cannot paddle the river. If a conflict arises, the only solution for paddlers is to go to court and seek a declaration of navigability or that a prescriptive easement has been established.

You may wish to contact an Indiana Conservation Officer stationed in the county where you plan to go paddling for additional information about river usage. Contact a conservation officer.

Respecting private property

Keep in mind that the banks of all rivers in Indiana should be considered private property. Only a very small part of the riverbanks in Indiana are in public ownership. Please do not trespass on private property.