The Law Dictionary

Your Free Online Legal Dictionary • Featuring Black’s Law Dictionary, 2nd Ed.

NAVIGABLE Definition & Legal Meaning

Definition & Citations:

Capable of being navigated; that may be navigated or passed over in ships or vessels. But the term is generally understood in a more restricted sense, viz., subject to the ebb and flow of the tide. “The doctrine of the common law as to the navigability of waters has no application in this country. Here the ebb and flow of the tide do not constitute the usual test, as in England, or any test at all, of the navigability of waters. There no waters are navigable in fact, or at least to any considerable extent, which are not subject to the tide, and from this circumstance tide-water and navigable water there signify substantially the same thing. But in this country the case is widely different. Some of our rivers are as navigable for many hundreds of miles above as they are below the limits of tide-water, and some of them are navigable for groat distances by large vessels, which are not even affected by the tide at any point during their entire length. A different test must therefore be applied to determine the navigability of our rivers, and that is found in their navigable capacity. Those rivers must be regarded as public navigable rivers, in law, which are navigable in fact. And they are navigable in fact when they are used, or are susceptible of being used, in their ordinary condition, as highways for commerce, over which trade and travel are or may be conducted in the customary modes of trade and travel on water. And they constitute navigable waters of the United States, within the meaning of the nets of congress, in contradistinction from the navigable waters of the states, when they form, in their ordinary condition, by themselves, or by uniting with other wnters, a continued highway over which commerce is or may be carried on with other states or foreign countries in the customary modes in which such commerce is conducted by water.” The Daniel Bnll, 10 Wall. 50.1. 19 L. Ed. 999. And see Packer v. Bird, 137 U. S. 001. 11 Sup. Ct. 210. 34 L. Ed. 810; The Genesee Chief, 12 How. 455, 13 L. Ed. 1058; Illinois Cent. R. Co. v. State, 140 U. S. 3S7, 13 Sup. Ct. 110. 30 L. Ed. 1018.It is true that the flow and ebb of the tide is not regarded, in this country, as the usual, or any real, test of navigability; and it only operates to impress, prima fade, the character of being public and navigable, and to place the onus of proof on the party affirming the contrary. But the navignhility of tide-waters does not materially depend upon past or present actual public use. Such use may establish navigability, but it is not essential to give the character. Otherwise, streams in new and unsettled sections of the country, or where the increase, growth, and development have not been sufficient to call them into public use, would be ex cluded, though navigable in fact, thus making the character of being a navigable stream dependent on the occurrence of the necessity of public use. Capability of being used for useful purposes of navigation, of trade and travel, in the usual and ordinary modes, and not the extent and manner of the use, is the test of navi- fability. Sullivan v. Spolswood, 82 Ala. 100, 2 onth. 710.


This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. The Law Dictionary is not a law firm, and this page does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.