This section is from the book "Practical Real Estate Methods For Broker, Operator & Owner", by Thirty Experts. Also available from Amazon: Practical Real Estate Methods for Broker, Operator, Owner.
In a general way, water-front property refers to real estate, improved, or unimproved, bordering upon navigable waters and upon which are lines of high and low water mark, indicating the difference of the level of the water at the ebb and flow of the tide, which varies in different seasons and according to the direction of the wind and for other reasons. When high water mark or low water mark are spoken of they should be understood, unless otherwise specified, to mean the average high or low water mark; that is to say, the mean of the greatest height to which the flood tide brings the water, or the mean of the lesser height at the ebb of the tide, during a certain period, such as a year. In many instances the term "water-front property" is used to distinguish rights which exist in connection with improvements along the water-front, such as a bulkhead right (that is, the right to collect cranage and wharfage along a stretch of water-front which has been improved by a bulkhead), or pier rights (that is, rights of cranage and wharfage at a pier built out over land under water but connected with upland in the rear of the water line). These "water-front property" rights may belong to an owner who is not the proprietor of uplands in the rear.
There are also "water-front property" rights of still different character, but generally those rights which you will find most valuable are the rights to the use of land under water for the support of piers and platforms, and pier rights and bulkhead rights with which pass, sometimes, rights of passage over land in the rear. Then there are certain "water-front property" rights which are particularly valuable in many instances, this particular value arising from a combination of bulkhead or pier rights, with the ownership of upland which may even be physically separated from the line along which frontal rights exist by a marginal street, quay, or wharf. Such a joining in ownership of upland with frontal rights gives to these frontal rights frequently an unusual and additional element of value which is known as the conjunctive value of the bulkhead rights, the pier rights, etc.
In some instances these "water-front property" interests arise from statutory provisions, in other instances from grants and similar instruments, and in other instances still, such as in the case of a right of access to land reaching to the low water mark, from ancient customs which may be said to give rise to common law water-front property rights. In some instances the physical ownership of a bulkhead or pier may be in one person, and the rights to cranage and wharfage at the bulkhead or pier in another. The owner of pier rights may own the land under water on which the pier stands, or he may only own the pier, as distinguished from the land under water, or he may have only the rights as distinguished from the structure of the pier. Frequently the ownership of rights carries obligations to keep in repair, etc.