Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Waterway Definition:

A body of water on which navigation is practicable and practiced.

Related Terms: Watercourse

Waterways include rivers, whether free-flowing or not, lakes, ponds and still-water basins.

Often used interchangeably with the term watercourse although some jurisdictions make a distinction between the two: watercourse including some navigable waters (streams, lakes and ponds) which are not waterways (e.g.. rivers).

Frey and Mutz adopted these words in their 2007 article:

"A waterway or watercourse is generally understood to be a natural or man-made channel through which water flows; it usually consists of flowing water, a bed, banks, and a shore....

(A) watercourse (is) a running stream of water; a natural stream fed from permanent or natural sources, including rivers, creeks, runs, and rivulets. There must be a stream, usually flowing in a particular direction, though it need not flow continuously. It may sometimes be dry. It must flow in a definite channel, having a bed or banks, and usually discharges itself into some other stream or body of water. It must be something more than a mere surface drainage over the entire face of the tract of land, occasioned by unusual freshets or other extraordinary causes."

Given the discordant definitions, recourse should always be had, in the first instance, to the statute book of a particular jurisdiction.


  • Frey, Bertram C.; Mutz, Andrew, Public Trust in Surface Waterways and Submerged Lands of the Great Lakes States, 40 U. Mich. J.L. Reform 908 (2006-2007)

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