9 beach rules for not being the absolute worst

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How to beach without being a jerk

In the blockbuster film “Barbie,” Ken gets big laughs when he says his job is “just … beach.”

But face it: Not everyone is a beach pro. Some of you are actually very bad at beach.

“I think going to the beach is an art,” said Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon, a Caribbean-focused travel expert. “A lot of people don’t know how to beach, but there is an art to it.”

Have you ever set your umbrella up directly in front of a fellow beachgoer? Blasted your “Beach Day” playlist at top volume on the crowded shore? Congrats, you flunk beach-art class.

As prime sun-and-sand season approaches, it’s time to bone up on the essentials of beach etiquette.

Personal space: Try respecting it

Julie Manquen, who lives in St. Pete Beach, Fla., remembers the day she was sitting near the water and a woman plopped down right in front of her.

“There was plenty of room,” she said. “I was like, ‘Why would you do that, how can you be that oblivious?’”

If you’re going to sit far back from the shoreline, it’s fair game for someone to get between you and your waves. But in close quarters, that’s a faux pas.

“I don’t want to be looking out at the water and then seeing your head,” said Manquen, who has written about beach etiquette for her Hello South Blog.

Greaves-Gabbadon, who blogs as JetSetSarah, said the same goes for lounge chairs.

“There’s nothing worse than there’s 24 chaises on the beach and you just come and sit next to mine when you could have gone anywhere else,” she said. “I think it’s just nice to give people their personal space. So if you can avoid being right next to someone, please do avoid that.”

Pick up your trash

Many beaches have trash cans. Use them! No receptacles? Pack up the garbage and haul it away.

“Please leave the beach the way you found it,” said Wyatt Werneth, national spokesman for the American Lifeguard Association.

He recalled that before he retired as chief of Brevard County Ocean Rescue in Florida, he once pursued a group traveling in a giant bus had left fast food trash on the beach.

“It looked like a dump,” he said. “I put my lights and siren on and went after them and pulled the bus over, made them come back and clean it up.”

It’s not just food trash that gets left behind, said Capri Mungeam, co-owner of the sand castle lesson company Beach Sand Sculptures in Florida’s Panhandle.

Mungeam said people often will buy cheap beach equipment when they visit and never clear it off the beach.

“There’s so much that ends up in the trash,” she said. “It’s really appalling. If you bring it to the beach, you should take it away from the beach.”

Do not spread sand

We love the feeling of sand under our feet. The feeling of sand on our faces, arms, bellies or back, not so much.

“Here am I with my beautiful sunscreen-coated body all sticky and adhesive and you kick up the sand and I am just like a sugar doughnut basically,” Greaves-Gabbadon said. “It’s stuck to me, and the only remedy is I have to get in the water, I have to dry off, and then I have to sunscreen all over again.”

National etiquette expert Diane Gottsman said that adults and kids alike shouldn’t kick sand on sunbathers as they walk, and that beachgoers should be careful with any actions that might spread sand around.

“When you’re shaking out a blanket, sand is going all over,” she said. “You’ve got a portable fan and the sand is going all over somebody else’s face. You just have to be cognizant of who is around us.”

Do not feed the wildlife

Manquen said people often think it’s “cute and funny” to feed the birds on the beach. She couldn’t disagree more.

“They are like the rats of the beach,” she said. “They can be very aggressive. They’ll call like 20 of their friends and so, before you know it, you’re surrounded. They’re going to the bathroom all over your stuff.”

Recently, she saw a bird steal a pizza slice from a group of spring-breakers at the beach.

“They were laughing. They thought it was so funny,” she said.

While seagulls can turn into a divebombing nightmare, they’re not the only ones that need to avoid people food.

Lindsey Brendel, a park ranger at Assateague Island National Seashore, said she has seen people feeding chipmunks. At Assateague in Maryland and Virginia, the park’s famous wild horses are “very attracted” to food that gets left out.

She said the Maryland district has about 80 wild horses that get their food from grasses that grow on the island.

“Human food is not good for their diet,” she said. “You can’t leave those items and go to a different location without somebody staying with them.”

Do not blast your stereo at full volume

We have no doubt that your musical taste is impeccable, that your mixtapes are spot-on and your sound system is pristine. But we do doubt that everyone else on the beach will want to hear your jams at the expense of their own music, conversation or thoughts.

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“I think if you’re on your own, you should absolutely have headphones,” Greaves-Gabbadon said. “But I’m not such a Grinch that if it’s like a bunch of you I don’t think you should have, like, a little boombox playing. But consider the other people around you because some of us just want to listen to the seagulls or the waves rushing to shore.”

Gottsman, founder of the Protocol School of Texas, said people who want to listen to music should consider whether it’s appropriate for the setting and respectful of other beachgoers. But, she said, people who are bothered by music also need to understand that everyone is in a public place sharing the airwaves.

“The problem is when it steps over the line and it becomes invasive or offensive,” she said.

There’s also a safety reason for keeping the volume in check, Werneth said: Loud music might make lifeguards’ jobs more difficult.

“You kind of depend on the noises of the natural environment to determine if there’s an emergency — calls for help, whistles,” he said.

Obey the speed limit

Driving is allowed on some beaches, and, in some cases, speed limits will be lower during months of heavy visitation or when people are in the area.

That’s the case at Padre Island National Seashore in Texas, where drivers can go no more than 15 mph across the length of the island between March 1 and Labor Day. For the rest of the year, the speed limit on a vast stretch of the beach is 25 mph.

“Speed limit is the number one thing,” said Kelly Taylor, spokeswoman for the park. “It drops for the safety of people who are recreating on the beach, for the safety of turtles, for the safety of birds that are trying to feed and raise their young.”

No smoking around others

Many beaches ban smoking. Even if yours doesn’t, think twice about filling the salty air with cigarette smoke when you have neighbors close in — or when you’re near a lifeguard. If you do smoke, remember that the sand is not an ashtray.

“If you smoke, please be considerate of that lifeguard,” Werneth said. “When they start smoking, I smoke that pack of cigarettes with them. I can’t move.”

Gottsman said that even if people are technically permitted to smoke, they should use common courtesy.

“We should not be smoking in the immediate distance of someone who is right next to us and not smoking,” she said.

Digging holes is dangerous

A favorite beach pastime can also cause injuries or even be deadly. A 7-year-old girl died in February after a hole collapsed at a South Florida beach and trapped her under the sand. A similar tragedy unfolded in 2022 in New Jersey.

“Sand collapses; it doesn’t hold up,” Werneth said. “If you must dig a hole, make sure you don’t dig it any deeper than the smallest person in your group. Cover it up when you leave.”

Holes can also threaten such beach wildlife as sea turtles, which hatch in nests in the sand and then make their way to the water.

Mungeam, of Beach Sand Sculptures, said her company doesn’t dig moats during sand castle lessons and teaches clients to avoid moats because of the danger for turtles and humans.

“Even after a big hole’s been filled in, if it hasn’t been kind of tamped down, you step in the middle of it and it’s loose,” she said.

Taylor said holes on beaches at Padre Island are a huge issue; in addition to threatening people and wildlife, vehicles can hit the holes and get damaged.

“Fill in your holes, people, fill them in,” Taylor said. “It can be so freaking dangerous.”

Your umbrella is not a kite … or a weapon

Werneth recalled sitting at a lifeguard tower once and watching as three umbrellas went rogue.

He recommended checking for wind conditions before heading to the beach, and using umbrella systems that have weighted sandbags. It’s not enough just to jab a pole into the sand.

“We don’t want umbrellas lifting and flying across the beach and impaling people,” he said.

Same goes for large canopies, Mungeam said, especially when people set them up to stake out a patch of beach and then leave them unattended.

“Canopies left unattended on the beach are dangerous,” she said. “The wind catches them, they just break apart, and then they end up as trash.”

More travel tips

Vacation planning: Start with a strategy to maximize days off by taking PTO around holidays. Experts recommend taking multiple short trips for peak happiness. Want to take an ambitious trip? Here are 12 destinations to try this year — without crowds.

Cheap flights: Follow our best advice for scoring low airfare, including setting flight price alerts and subscribing to deal newsletters. If you’re set on an expensive getaway, here’s a plan to save up without straining your credit limit.

Airport chaos: We’ve got advice for every scenario, from canceled flights to lost luggage. Stuck at the rental car counter? These tips can speed up the process. And following these 52 rules of flying should make the experience better for everyone.

Expert advice: Our By The Way Concierge solves readers’ dilemmas, including whether it’s okay to ditch a partner at security, or what happens if you get caught flying with weed. Submit your question here. Or you could look to the gurus: Lonely Planet and Rick Steves.

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