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For the physiographer “ coast-line ” has been defined as the line which forms the boundary between the shore zone alternatively covered and uncovered by the tides, and the coast zone always exposed to view. “ It marks the seaward limit of the permanently exposed coast.”*
The essential relations will be clear from Fig. 1, reproduced from a volume on “ Shore Processes and Shore-line Development ” published by the present writer in 1919. This shows the shore divided into two minor zones : the foreshore traversed by the normal play of the tides, and the backshore covered only at times of extraordinary high water. At the inner edge of the backshore, and just at the base of the wave-cut cliffs where such exist, is the coast-line. The coast-line thus traces the landward limit of the realm dominated by the action of marine forces, and the seaward limit of the realm dominated by subaerial agencies.


It will be seen from Fig. 1A that the physiographer makes a distinction between “ coast-line ” and “ shore-line,” and that he recognizes a high-tide shore-line and a low-tide shore-line. If he speaks of shore-line without qualification he usually means the low-tide shore-line, the line bounding the seaward limit of the foreshore. This is the physiographic basis for the fact, pointed out by Gilbert and Brigham, that in applying to the edge of the land washed by ocean waters the terms shore-line and coast-line, “ the latter suggests more particularly the margin of the land, the former the border of the sea.”
The physiographer makes a further distinction between coast-line and shoreline, for he recognizes that rivers and bays, as well as the oceans, have shore-lines, whereas he restricts the term coast-line to “ the line along which the ocean waters wash the edge of the land.”
This distinction is clearly expressed in different terms in a modern textbook of physiography when the authors say : “ The shore is the margin of the land next to any large body of water, whereas the coast is the margin of the land next to the sea ” (Arey, Bryant and Clendenin).


The terms “ coast ” and “ shore ” figure abundantly in the law, but rarely have the courts been called upon to define the term “ coast-line.” That the law will recognize the “ coast-line ” as a line drawn at the inner edge of the shore when circumstances make clear that the coast was meant to exclude the shore, is clear from a decision in such a case where it was held that the expression “ coast-line ” used to describe a property boundary in

*JOHNSON, DOUGLAS, “ Shore Processes and Shore-line Development ” p. 160. 1919.
†GILBERT G.K. and BRIGHAM, A.P. “ An Introduction to Physical Geography,” p. 302.

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Fig. 1A. Physiographic Terminology
[In Fig 1A above, just below the word “Beach,”
it reads “Wave cut Bench” [sic] - webmaster

Fig. 1B. Popular Terminology

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a certain grant of land was “ intended to indicate the actual and the normal boundary of land which was divided from the sea by high water mark, and that it consequently included the land down to the normal high water mark, and not further, to the exclusion of the foreshore and all rights to mine under it.” *


Obviously one cannot expect that popular usage will, in referring to the limit between land and sea, make the fine distinction between coast-line and shore-line recognized by the physiographer. The reasons for confusing coast-line and shore-line are easily understood. Except on low shores where the tidal range is great, the two lines are commonly but a few yards apart. It would not be possible to show both lines correctly on maps of ordinary scale. Most people fail to distinguish between sea-coast and sea-shore (see Fig. 1B) ; while others who recognize a difference think of coast as including the narrower shore, with both having the same limiting line seaward. Under these conditions it was inevitable that “ coast-line ” and “ shore-line ” should be used interchangeably as applied to the margin of the sea, and even the physiographer has sometimes fallen into this loose manner of speaking. The fact that such confusion exists is immaterial to the present issue, for there is here no dispute as to who shall possess the narrow strip of shore between coast-line and low-tide shore-line. It is assumed that in the present case possession of the coast will carry with it possession of the bordering strip of narrow shore. The popular confusion of the terms coast-line and shore-line is mentioned here simply to make clear actual usuage as affecting the term coast-line, and to emphasize two significant facts, referred to below :

(1)That despite the confusion as to terminology along the shores of the sea, even popular usage recognizes coast-line as a term inapplicable to the shores of lakes and rivers ; and

(2)That as commonly employed the term “ coast ” is conceived to be such a narrow zone that it is usually made synonymous with sea-shore, the terms coast-line and shore-line therefore being used interchangeably.


It should be clear that the term “coast-line” properly denotes a line without width. It therefore should not be confused with “ coast ” or with such expression as “ strip of coast ” or “ coastal strip,” all of which expressions imply a belt of country having some width. Unfortunately such

* Joint Appendix, Second Proof, Volume III., p. 1758 (Final Print, Vol. V, p. 2092).

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confusion is sometimes encountered, as in the English translations of that part of the convention between Great Britain and Russia, dated February 28/16, 1825, relating to the eastern boundary of Alaska, where the French “ lisière de Côte ” is improperly translated “ line of coast, ” instead of the more correct “ strip of coast.” This results in a confused and absurd treaty provision which becomes intelligible only in the light of the context. The same confusion reappears elsewhere in connection with this Alaskan Boundary dispute, as, for example, in the places cited at page 7 of the Counter Case of the Colony of Newfoundland, where Sir C. Bagot is quoted as speaking of “ a line of coast extending ten marine leagues into the interior,” and Count Nesselrode of “ the width of coast-line necessary for the safe existence and consolidation of our colonies.” Whether these uses of the terms coast-line and line of coast be attributed to incorrect translation from French texts of the original convention, to careless use of language by diplomatic agents, or to some other cause, there can be no doubt that such usage is both improper and exceptional. In the documents relating to the negotiations, the territory in question is usually described simply as the “ lisière,” as a “ strip of mainland,” “ strip of seacoast,” “ strip of territory,” etc. ; and the English translation of the authoritative French text of the convention, given by the Honourable John W. Foster* (then Ex-Secretary of State and a United States member of the Joint High Commission) in his account of the boundary dispute written while negotiations were still pending, correctly translates “ lisière de côte ” as “ strip of coast.” On the other hand, the United States representatives, in presenting their argument, repeatedly confused “ coast-line ” and “ coast.” Notwithstanding the fact that “ coast-line ” is not infrequently employed in the unfortunate manner indicated by several of the foregoing citations, it remains true that overwhelmingly preponderant usage recognizes the coast-line as a line without width which forms “ the contour of the coast ” (Funk and Wagnalls), “ the outline or contour line of a coast ” (Webster), “ the outline of a shore or coast ” (Century).
While recognition of the occasional confusion of “ coast-line ” with “ strip of coast ” is necessary to a full understanding of certain citations set forth in the Counter Case of the Colony of Newfoundland, the matter is not vital to the present issue, since it is not questioned that Newfoundland is entitled to jurisdiction over the “ coast ” of Labrador within specified limits, and it cannot be disputed that the coast has breadth, measured from the coast-line as a line of departure.


Islands (I, I, Fig. 2) closely bordering a coast are commonly treated as part of the coast. This usage holds in physiography, in general geographic

* FOSTER, JOHN W. “ The Alaskan Boundary,” National Geographic Magazine, X, 436. 1899.


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