You’re sprawled out on a beach towel, the smell of salt and sunscreen fills the air, and as the sun warms your back and shoulders, the sound of crashing waves lulls you into a light sleep.
Then, suddenly, you are awakened by a face full of sand.
Yep, someone just rushed past your towel to catch a flying Frisbee or race their friends to the ocean, not realizing that they kicked sand right in your direction.
It’s times like this when we wonder why people don’t have the decency to follow some basic beach etiquette. Everyone is at the beach for the same reason: to have a good time. So, let’s show some respect, right?
While individual beaches set certain rules and regulations, some of these expectations for how people should behave while visiting the beach are unwritten.
To help everyone out, especially during this busy summer season, we talked to some beachgoers in Rehoboth Beach and polled our staff to give you a handbook: How to be a Better Beach Bum.
Here are some of the top answers.
DO continue social distancing
OK, while keeping 6 feet away from others may not always be realistic on the beach, this is one COVID-19 rule that some beachgoers say they wish would stay.
Noah, an (almost) 11-year-old who was visiting Rehoboth Beach from Virginia, estimates that the best distance to keep from others is between 4 and 12 feet.
His adult beachgoing friends agreed, saying they like the 6-feet rule – or at least 4 feet, they said, somewhere in that ballpark.
When you go to the beach, you want your space. It’s one thing that everyone can do “to keep it friendly” while on the beach, said Tiara Gardener, who was visiting from Dover.
This also means don’t be that person who sits down inches from an empty chair. The owner of that chair probably just left to get an ice cream cone or use the restroom, and they will not be enthused when they find you suddenly popping their personal space bubble.
But this isn’t just for comfort, either. People often come to the beach to at least stick their toes in the water, if not take a dip. Please try not to barricade the path to the beach, preventing others from easily walking to the ocean.
Oh, and this space issue? It applies to you sports people, too.
Want to throw a football? Play some corn hole? If the beach is super crowded, this activity may be best reserved for your actual backyard.
DO pick up your trash
Ronnie Wimmer, who was visiting the beach from Virginia, said it’s simple: “If you bring it, take it back with you.”
Picking up your trash was one of the most popular pieces of advice. One staffer recalled a recent trip to Rehoboth Beach when she watched a group of people pull trash out of their car and leave it on the street.
Her response? She marched right up to them and threw it out in a nearby trash can.
People do the same thing on the beaches, and pretty much everyone has had enough.
In Rehoboth Beach, litterers don’t really have an excuse because there are trash cans at many of the beach entrances. At the state parks like Cape Henlopen, people should remember to bring a grocery bag or trash bag with them to carry out anything they want to throw away.
One local from Rehoboth, Ann, said she does this on every trip to the beach.
“We bring a trash bag with us, which everybody can do,” she said. “It’s not that hard.”
DO NOT even think about feeding the seagulls
Whatever you call them – sky rats, flying rodents, snack stealers – seagulls are not your pets or your friends.
A group of young adults from Pittsburgh watched as people just downhill from them fed Goldfish crackers to the seagulls Thursday afternoon.
That is not an acceptable behavior in their book, and many Delaware Online and Delmarva Now staff agreed.
If parents do not keep their children from offering pieces of bread or cookies to seagulls, some beachgoers said they’ll be inclined to say something.
DO NOT smoke on the beach
If you smoke, please don’t do it on the beach.
In fact, most beaches from Lewes to Ocean City, Maryland, have banned smoking and/or vaping while on the beach except in designated smoking areas.
While we’re here, a related reminder: Don’t leave your cigarette butts in the sand.
“Let’s face it, if you want to smoke, there’s a couple smoking areas, there’s ashtrays, there’s garbage cans,” said Brenda Ryan, who was visiting the beach from Colorado. “Little kids pick up everything.”
DO be mindful of where you shake out sand
Thinking of shaking out your sandy towel when I’m 4 feet downwind? How about you don’t.
Shaking out towels into a breeze or kicking sand onto others’ towels are sure ways to annoy your fellow beachgoers.
Pat Washeleski, a visitor from just outside Philadelphia, had been sitting on the beach since 9 a.m. and enjoying every minute. But just around 2 p.m., a group of teenagers got up from their spot a few feet away, and when they shook out their towel, sand went flying in her direction.
She laughed as she recalled the small nuisance.
“It’s just natural,” she said. “You pick a towel up or a blanket up and you just want to shake it out.”
But many agree: Think twice before shaking out any of your sand-coated belongings.
DO NOT play loud music
Bluetooth speakers are great for many things – dance parties in your kitchen, singing along out at the pool, chilling in the backyard.
But when you blare your music over everyone else, some beachgoers get a little cranky. And is it really their fault for wanting to hear the ocean waves while at the beach?
DO NOT be weird or gross
Yes, this is vague, but hear us out.
If you’ve spent a good amount of time at the beaches, you’re bound to see some weird things.
(One beachgoer recalled seeing people getting a little too intimate on the beach, if you know what we mean).
But it’s this one that irritated more than a few people: Please, oh please, do not let your children take a No. 2 in the sand, in the dunes or in the ocean.
Most places have portable bathrooms or nearby restrooms, so use them.
DO NOT walk on the dunes or mess with wildlife
We get it, it may be tempting to walk up to the ponies at Assateague. They may look like the friendly horse that you fed an apple to when you visited your friend’s farm.
But they are not. These are wild horses, people. And the state prohibits anyone from approaching, feeding or touching the horses.
If you do, don’t be surprised if the horse kicks or bites you.
Speaking of wildlife, please do not walk or spread a picnic blanket out on the dunes. This is also a written rule to keep these areas protected.
DO fill in any holes dug in the sand
Few things can put a damper on a beach trip like a twisted ankle.
If you want to dig holes, that’s great. Wonderful, we love to see creative moats around sandcastles and shallow ponds for kids to play in.
But, please, remember to fill them in when you’re finished.
And do not dig holes that are too deep. Some beaches have written and unwritten rules about how deep a hole can be – a foot deep, up to the belly-button of the smallest child in your group, etc. – because deep holes can cave in and be seriously dangerous, or even deadly.
DO have fun!
It’s a cheesy rule, but you’re at the beach, right?
Sit back, relax and enjoy your vacation – whether it’s a few hours, a weekend or much longer.
And if you follow this beach etiquette or simply respect those around you, maybe this could just be your best summer yet.
Emily Lytle covers Sussex County from the inland towns to the beaches. Got a story she should tell? Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 302-332-0370. Follow her on Twitter at @emily3lytle.