In Port of London Authority v Rupert Gerald Ashmore  EWHC 954 (Ch) the Chancery Court was asked to consider whether it was possible to acquire title to a river bed by adverse possession via a barge moored in the river, which came to rest on an unregistered section of river bed twice a day at low tide. The owner of the barge and respondent in this application had tethered the barge to the bank of the river in 1983 and the vessel had remained there ever since, apart for a period of two months where she had been in dry dock. The Port Authority submitted that whilst the barge rested on the river bed twice a day at low tide, for the rest of the time there was clearance beneath the barge and so it could not be said that there was continuous and unbroken possession of the river bed. The Port Authority argued that the vessel did not occupy a defined portion of space in the water/air column above the river bed and that her position tended to change with the wind and the tide and so the vessel did not always occupy exactly the same “footprint” on the river bed. The Port Authority submitted also that the respondent had not unequivocally demonstrated an intention to possess the river bed. A disinterested third party coming across a boat moored in a tidal river would not automatically assume that the owner of the boat was a trespasser, intent on excluding the world at large from possession.
Stephen Smith QC sitting as a Deputy Judge held that the fact that the barge rose and fell with the tide did not mean that the respondent had relinquished physical possession of the river bed. To establish adverse possession, it is not necessary to show that there is physical contact at all times. Exclusive possession depends upon the land in question and the manner in which the land is commonly used or enjoyed. The respondent’s actions showed the requisite level of intention to possess. The court concluded that the respondent had acquired title to the river bed. The Deputy Judge made it clear that his decision was limited to the facts of the case and did not address the rights of those whose vessels were moored away from a river bank, in a non-tidal river or at sea.