There’s nothing like heading to the beach to make you feel like a kid set free for summer vacation, including an interior tape loop of no more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks and the rule-breaking bravado that moment inspires.
But hang on: Even the beach has some rules that require a bit of attention. Here are 10 things to never do when enjoying the eternal sunshine of beach time. You don’t want that hall pass to paradise revoked.
1. Don’t Sit Too Close
Healthy boundaries are always a good thing, so apply that truism to your beach towel placement and give yourself and your neighbors as much personal space as possible. If the beach isn’t crowded, try for 7 to 20 feet between your set-up and anyone else’s. If it’s a crowded day, obviously that’s going to require a little more thoughtful squeezing: Shoot for a boundary of 3-4 feet. And always, no matter what the density, do your best NOT to sit directly in front of anyone else. It’s just not cool.
2. Don’t Make Trash
Let’s name a new Golden Rule for going to the beach (and life in general): Don’t buy stuff that makes trash. Bring your snacks and drinks in reusable containers (including straws), employ easy zero-waste practices like bringing cloth napkins instead of paper, and try always to avoid single-use plastics and Styrofoam if you can. If you create any trash, take it out with you and properly sort and dispose of it at home.
3. Don’t Play Loud Music
With the advent and now ubiquity of earbud-driven listening, some beach etiquette gurus are calling for a total ban on plein air play of beach tunes (this popular South Carolina beach town just put major limits on airplay music volume and content while this Jersey Shore town banned speakers altogether). So if you’re up for sharing a summer soundtrack with your whole gang (and it’s allowed on your beach), keep the volume down to mid-range (take a stroll to the nearest neighbors and make sure they can’t hear much or any of it), and keep the content pretty much PG-13.
4. Don’t Feed the Seagulls
… or any wildlife, for that matter. Whether you think those aggressive gulls are cute or annoying, here’s the point: Feeding them your food not only reinforces begging behaviors, it’s actually unhealthy for the birds. Sea birds like gulls can become ill on diets of French fries and bread crusts; further, they need to forage properly, not hang out waiting for handouts. Keep your human food to your own species and extend that general respect for wildlife to staying a respectful distance from any animal onshore, including basking seals and sea lions. Pack binoculars in your beach bag for watching them and give them about a 150 feet of personal space, say the experts.
5. Don’t Shake Out Your Towel Near Others
Your mother taught you this. So why did you forget it? When it’s time to head home for the day, gingerly lift one edge of your towel and let the majority of sand slide quietly off it. Then walk away from everyone and give it a good snap to clean it off (making sure you’re not upwind of anyone on a blustery day). And while on the subject of sand etiquette: Don’t run between beachgoers—you’re guaranteed to kick up sand and make enemies (and deservedly so). Finally, remove your flip-flops—they kick up an amazing amount of sand, even if you’re trying to walk carefully.
6. Don’t Ignore Warnings
Don’t make those nice folks who guard the beach have to rescue you, so be smart and pay attention to any rip tide, big surf, or other unsafe conditions (like algae blooms, jellyfish, and sharks, to name a few). Take a moment when entering a beach to read all signs about ongoing hazards and temporary ones, and learn what a green, yellow, or red flag means locally (a good general guide to them is right here). And if they say stay out of the water, do what they say. They know better than you do.
7. Don’t Turn Your Beach Umbrella into a Game of Thrones-Level Piece of Weaponry
Take a long pole with a pointed end, add a big canvas made to catch the merest puff of wind, and then barely secure it upright. Recipe for wild lift-offs and potential skewering? One hundred percent (just watch this video for proof.
Secure your shade: Try to get at least 1/3 third of the post buried in the sand by using a rocking back-and-forth motion (stabbing doesn’t work) and once it’s buried, rotate the umbrella so that it has its “back” to the wind, effectively pushing it into the sand, not lifting it out (be prepared to adjust if the wind shifts). You can also invest in a sand anchor, available here.
8. Don’t Leave Your Structures or Gear Out Overnight
… if you want to see them in the morning. The tide may come up higher than you thought, or weather can roar in and take down what you thought was theoretically bomb-proof. Finally, it’s just good beach stewardship to return the sands to their natural state at the end of the day.
9. Don’t Fight the Sea
If you’ve paid attention to the warnings (did you read #6?), you’re unlikely to get into big trouble in the water. That said, crazy things happen, and you might find yourself suddenly pulled farther and farther from shore by a riptide. Here’s the thing: If you try to make your way back to the beach, you’ll exhaust yourself quickly and put yourself at real risk for drowning. Put your arm up to signal to the lifeguards on the beach that you need watching or help, and let the current pull you out until you can swim parallel to the shore out of the rip. Then you can make your way back to shore.
10. Don't Let Pets Go Unsupervised
If you’ve found a dog-friendly beach that allows your pet off the leash, keep in mind that the ocean can be a risky place for your beloved companion. For one, seawater can act as a gastrointestinal irritant, according to Animal Planet, and can act as a laxative or promote vomiting, and lots of dogs will just lap up whatever is swirling around them (make sure you’ve got lots of fresh water for drinking instead). Secondly, rip tides, sharks, and sudden deep water can put a pooch in peril, so watch carefully. Finally, salt water can irritate a dog’s skin and paws, so make sure there’s a nice, fresh-water rinse for him or her at the end of the beach day.