Mexico’s Federal Maritime Zone

Restricted Zone in Baja

Mexico’s Beaches Are Known As “Federal Maritime Zone”

Thus if you are planning to buy property on the beach in Mexico then you must fully understand what the Federal Maritime Zone is.

The Federal Maritime Zone, per law, is described as a 20-meter wide strip of land that is transitable and next to the beach (playa mar)”. Let’s break this down to make sure we are clear on what we are talking about:

1.- The Federal Maritime Zone is 20 meters wide. There are several types of Federal Zone. This article is only making reference to the Federal MARITIME Zone.

2.- It must be “transitable” land, that I, it must be possible to cross. More on this below.

3.- It is measured from what the law considers a “beach”.

Let us start by addressing that the 20-meter strip of beach, is measured from what I legally a beach. The law describes a “beach” as that portion of land that is “covered and uncovered by tides”, and the higher tide mark becomes the upper limit of the “beach”.

For purposes of measuring these 20 meters, the law stipulates that an average high tide marks the starting point to measure. The problem here is that the “average” high tide is not a fixed point it is a variable these days due to el Niño, la Niña, and other atmospheric phenomena as can be confirmed by residents near the beach that know, first hand, that tides vary greatly. Compounding the problem is the fact that high and low tide lines are greatly dependent on the amount of sand or sediment on the beach.

At this point, you may now understand that the so-called “starting point” is actually a moving target. Often sand disappears due to a storm and the high tide mark now encroaches into someone’s property line.

The government now has maps to determine or set the Federal Maritime Zone. Due to this, surveyors trying to establish the Federal Zone next to your property must be using these maps as reference. If your surveyor does not use these coordinates from these same maps, he is not doing a professional job.

Since we have already defined what a beach is for legal purposes, and the issues affecting where the 20 meters of Federal Zone should start.

Let us now address the topic of what should we understand as Federal Maritime Zone and what does “transitable” means.

We have already agreed that the Federal Maritime Zone is a 20-meter wide strip of “transitable” land measured from the high tide mark. Regrettably, the law does not specifically define the meaning of “transitable” but it does give us some hints.

“Transitable”, is defined by most dictionaries as: “a place through which people may pass from one area to another”. In short, an area you can “transit” or move across.

Thus, would a beach be considered “transitable”? Sure. But does a cliff or rocky shore meet this criterion? Of course not! Why? Simple, Article 4 of the Rules for the Use and Enjoyment of the Federal Maritime Zone, state the following:

“Article 4.- The Federal Maritime Zone will be determined in areas in which there is a horizontal plane with an angle of inclination of 30 degrees or less.”

“In those areas with no beaches and where cliffs are present, SEMARNAT will determine the federal maritime land zone within the stretch of land next to the ocean, only when the inclination of such stretch is 30 degrees or less in a continuous line…”

Article 4 is pretty clear in stating that a Federal Maritime Zone is that in which the land is immediately adjacent to the high tide mark and that such has an angle of inclination of LESS THAN 30 DEGREES.

The 30-degree rule has been in the law since 1991 and is too often ignored by those who measure the Federal Maritime Zone, particularly since the federal government has agreements with Municipal Governments to collect annual concession duties (cities keep 20% of the duties collected).

Too often the government claims that houses and properties on cliffs are in the Federal Maritime Zone “because they are within 20 meters of the high tide mark”. In accordance with this 30-degree rule this is NOT THE CASE and is a very dependable argument.

In conclusion:

1) The Federal Maritime Zone is 20 meters wide; 

2) It is measured from the high tide mark (**); and 

3) In areas where the slope of the land is greater than 30 degrees, there is no obligation to have a federal concession based on the aforementioned Article 4 of the rules of the Federal Maritime Zone.

Further, building within the Federal Zone can be done as long once Environmental Impact Studies have been completed, approved and any and all conditions have been approved thus do not be swayed by “experts” that you can build on federal soil and that it is fine to apply for licenses later, doing so is a federal crime.

What if you bought a property and later found out that a portion of it is on the Federal Zone? 

Well, you should have become aware of this prior to actually closing on a purchase since you were supposed to have an appraisal and the deed always includes pictures of what the beachside of the property looks like. If for some odd reason you were unaware of the encroachment of the construction on Federal Zone, the federal agency ZOFEMAT, could attempt to find you, also, you must apply for the concession, which takes a lot of time.

If your construction is encroaching on federal land the government must deliver a summons to you stating that fact. You need to retain the services of an independent surveyor with experience on Federal Maritime Zone and get a professional opinion based on your land.

Federal Zone Concessions are typically granted for 15 years and are renewable as long as the beneficiary has not breached the conditions contained in the concession, which includes being current with the payment of the concession fee.

Learn More About The Federal Maritime Zone


Rafael Solorzano - Baja Legal Advice

Rafael Solorzano
Attorney at Law / Licensed Exclusively in Mexico
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