Beach manners -- a matter of etiquette and the law - Shooting The Breeze


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Beach manners -- a matter of etiquette and the law

Friday 01 July 2016 at 3:38 pm.

Years ago, I used to write a summer column on beach etiquette -- not every year, but fairly often. I haven't done in it in a while, and I was reminded by several recent encounters on the beach that maybe it's time to publish something on this topic again.

So here it goes.

And this isn't a column just for our visitors -- sometimes even locals need reminding about beach manners. Also, it's not just about etiquette -- in addition to manners, beach drivers need to know the law and obey it and use some common sense. So my list in this column includes a mixture of all three.

First, all drivers need to know that all the state’s traffic laws for driving on a paved road apply to beach driving -- buckle up, observe speed limits, open containers of alcoholic beverages are prohibited, current driver’s license, vehicle registration, insurance and license plate are required.

And they also need to know that the National Park Service requires a permit for driving on the beach. (For more information on permits, go to

Do not drive recklessly by cutting “doughnuts” or defacing the beach. Never drive on the dunes.

Don't let your children play on the dunes, either, and do not pick the sea oats. The dunes are important for protecting the island and the sea grasses, including sea oats, help hold the sand on the dunes.

The speed limit on the beach is 15 mph unless otherwise posted. When traveling within 100 feet of pedestrians, the speed limit is 5 mph. Pedestrians always have the right of way. Watch out for children who may dart out from between parked ORVs or might be playing on the beach and because of the wind or the surf, not hear an approaching vehicle.

All ORV trails are clearly marked. Do not cross into areas closed for resource protection, which are also clearly marked. This applies to pedestrians, as well as vehicles.

Your tires should be aired down to drive on the access ramps and the beach -- no matter what your manual says. The Park Service recommends 20 psi.

If you get stuck, lower your tire pressure even more. Slowly back up in your tracks and move slowly forward. Don’t sit there and spin your wheels or you will get really stuck.

Do not wait until you are in the access ramp to stop and air down your tires -- holding up the drivers behind you. Air down your tires before you get onto the ramp.

Don’t drive in the surf or standing water on the beach. Salt water is corrosive and can ruin your vehicle.

Prepare for emergencies by carrying in your vehicle a shovel, tire pressure gauge, spare tire, jack and jack support board, fire extinguisher, tow rope, flashlight and first-aid kit.

All fireworks, including sparklers, are illegal on the beach. And they are also illegal in all the villages of Hatteras and Ocracoke.

Keep pets on a six-foot leash.

Feeding wildlife, including those begging seagulls, is prohibited. If you do feed the gulls, you will also find out that they can be annoying -- if not threatening to small children. The gulls are so used to humans feeding them that they can be quite fearless and demanding. I've seen the laughing gulls dive bomb hot grills to steal a hot dog and swoop down to take a sandwich out of the hand of a startled -- and sometimes frightened -- child. Do not encourage this behavior -- it's not good for the birds or the humans.

You should think twice about digging deep holes or tunnels on the beach. It's tempting and looks like a lot of fun, but it can also be dangerous. Visitors to the seashore have been killed when sand collapsed on them while they were digging tunnels.

If you do dig holes on the beach, be sure to cover them up before you leave. Holes on the beach at night can be dangerous for pedestrians, emergency vehicles, and wildlife.

Don't hog the beach or try to save space for all of your friends, family, and fishing buddies. Folks put out chairs spread along the beach or fishing rods in holders spread over many feet of beach to "save" space for late arriving buddies. It's not illegal, but it's not good manners either. You can save a little space, but it's definitely inconsiderate to spread your gear over 10 or 20 yards.

Park regulations prohibit leaving your equipment on the beach overnight. This includes such items as tents, cabanas, umbrellas, chairs, volleyball nets, horseshoe pits, wading pools and other gear. This is especially a problem in the villages. Visitors who rent oceanfront and oceanside properties often set up for the week and leave everything in place. This isn't a problem if you are heading inside for lunch or heading out for a shopping trip. But it is a problem if you leave it up overnight. These items are dangerous for pedestrians and emergency vehicles trying to navigate the beaches after dark. They can also be dangerous for nesting sea turtles.

If your cabana or chair is broken, don't just leave it on the beach for someone else to have to haul it away for you. (Yes, people do abandon their broken gear on the beach.)

Drones are prohibited on all National Park Service properties -- including the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Of course, do not litter. Be sure that trash bags are a part of your beach packing and carry out your trash with you. Some folks even pick up trash left behind by other, less thoughtful beachgoers.

Share the beach and the water. User conflicts are an ongoing problem, and most can be solved with good sense and civility. This is a problem mostly in the summer. If you are going to fish, don't set up in the middle of vacationing families. And, likewise, if you want to swim and enjoy the water, don't stop next to a group of anglers.

Don't assume everyone shares your taste in music. Some folks like to hear the sound of the surf and shorebirds. Keep the volume to a reasonable level.


In the past when I wrote these columns on beach manners, I always included a few words on beach fire regulations and etiquette.

However, under the seashore's ORV plan and regulation that became final in 2012, it hardly seems worth mentioning what used to be a favorite activity for both locals and visitors.

Now, beach fires are largely irrelevant, especially in the summer -- unless you happen to have rented an expensive oceanfront house on Hatteras Island. And this is a pet peeve of mine about the seashore's new plan.

From May 1-Nov. 15, the Park Service allows beach fires only at Coquina Beach Day Use Area, Ocracoke Day Use Area, and in front of the villages of Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Frisco, and Hatteras. Fires are not allowed during that time on any of the ORV routes. In the winter, you can drive out on an ORV route and have a beach fire -- but only until 10 p.m., even though you can stay out on the beach all night at that time of year.

Since there are no public beach access areas in any of the villages, there's really no place for folks who don't have oceanfront rentals to go to have a summer beach fire.

Doesn't seem quite right.

Also, a permit is required for beach fires.


This one applies not only to the beach, but to all of Hatteras and Ocracoke.

It's not the law in the seashore or in Dare or Hyde County, but please turn your outside lights off at night when you are not using them. We like to enjoy our dark skies here on Hatteras and Ocracoke island, and it's hard to do when your neighbors leave their outdoor lights, especially big spotlights, on all night long.

In communities that include both rentals and year-round residences, such as where I live, it can be annoying when the lights of the rental house next door are shining into your bedroom all night.

If you have an oceanfront rental house, it's especially important to turn off outside lights and pool lights when they are not in use. Outdoor lights can disturb sea turtles coming ashore to nest and can be especially confusing and harmful to the baby turtles when the nests hatch. Turtle hatchlings are attracted to lights, and I've heard more than one story about turtle hatchlings heading toward a lighted swimming pool instead of the ocean.

Finally, have a safe and happy holiday!

seventeen comments

Dave H

Thanks, Irene for a timely reminder! You’re spot on with the beach fires, but remember, the NPS are the Federal Government, and NO logic can be applied to that entity or any of it’s actions! Also, thanks for the reminder on outside lights! It’s not just tourists who are inconsiderate or ignorant with their outside lighting! Hey, idiots on Bayside Court- this isn’t Philly or Baltimore or Norfolk! Kill the d**n lights!

Dave H - 01-07-’16 18:52
Please be a good neighbor

P.S. Please, always clean up after your dog both on and off the beach. It doesn’t take much effort and makes everyone’s day more pleasant.

Please be a good neighbor - 01-07-’16 21:28

Really wished that folks visiting would respect the dunes on Hatteras Island. So many times, I wished I had a sign if you want to walk the dunes, go to Jockey’s Ridge. Thank you for including that in your comments.

tarheelgirl - 01-07-’16 22:34
Jim Weston

Thank you Irene, always good to remind people about the beautiful beach. Thank you for IFP. Have a wonderful 4th. Jim W.

Jim Weston - 02-07-’16 06:15

But, the dunes are a main contributor of erosion of Hatteras Island. They need to be broken up.

Bud - 02-07-’16 06:29
salvo jimmy

There is now one public beach access in a village. It’s the one Dare County has done in Rodanthe. It has parking, rest rooms and showers.

Re laws.

NPS has assimilated ALL, repeat ALL, NC law into their regs. Thus all NC law applies on NPS land, not just vehicle law.

I see many riding the beach on tail gates and sitting on the sides of pickup beds instead of “cheeks” on the bed floor. It’s against the law just like on the highway.

The open container law applies to any vehicle on a roadway right of way, whether parked or moving. So since the beach is treated as a roadway at ORV routes, think twice before jumping into your parked vehicle with open beer in hand to get in out of the rain or while eating your sandwich.

It’s also illegal in NC to consume fortified wine (anything over 16%) or distilled spirits in public. Thus not allowed on the beach whether mixed or not.

salvo jimmy - 02-07-’16 07:50
Mike McGuire

Thank you, Irene – spot on! Good and useful information. Thanks, too, for that last bit about turning off outside lights. If people saw the difference between the winter and summer night skies they would be amazed! Ambient light ruins the view!!

Mike McGuire - 02-07-’16 08:01
Denny in Dayton

I’d love to have a “bullet point” version of that to print and leave in the house. I have family members who seem to ignore a few of the rules. It would be handy for rentals as well.

Denny in Dayton - 02-07-’16 10:02

Thanks. These are excellent reminders and tips. I will be posting this on the fridge of my rental cottage.

Hanapad - 02-07-’16 16:03

The day I see ORVs traveling on the beach at just 15 mph, I’ll eat my hat.
The day I see ORVs slowing down to 5 mph when pedestrians are around, I’ll eat my hat and your hat, too.
The day I see an ORV cooler on the beach without a six pack in it, I’ll give up drinking.
The day I see ORVs not tearing up the dunes or creating ruts, I’ll eat every available OBPA or NCBBA bumper sticker.
For some reason, ORV beach drivers think that just by waving to everyone they negate their tonage of destruction reaped upon our national seashore.
Maybe it’s time for NPS to enforce the law rather than just write it?

guest - 02-07-’16 21:07
salvo jimmy

Hey guest,

Next time you see my ORV on the beach, come check the cooler. A look will be good for your health ‘cause you’ll quit. No six pack. Only a four pack of Caffrey’s.

salvo jimmy - 03-07-’16 07:49

Funny … “put this in my rental cottage” ….for what , so the renters have something to laugh at …come on . Their on vacation , they’ve paid for the rights to do as they please . Geeezz when will you people realize this …. LOLOL -said tongue in cheek for all that don’t get the lol . sad but true though !

diver531 - 03-07-’16 10:45

Thank you, Irene! I’m happy you mentioned staying off the dunes. We are in desperate need of a dune education program on Hatteras Island.

Lenmarie - 05-07-’16 14:26

Some people are just pigs. It doesn’t have to be a (visitor) to mess up the beach. Remember it is hard to train a pig to clean up their messes.

Dumps - 06-07-’16 08:18

Thank you Irene! Great article! And wow wish more folks knew about not climbing on the dunes! I find myself yelling at random visitors constantly about this!
Also respect the wildlife! It breaks my heart when I see squashed snakes, nutria and the like. It always boggles my mind how cars hit turtles when they are barely moving!!

but again thanks irene!

erica - 07-07-’16 09:31

For all the signs and reminders about fireworks, almost every Friday night all summer is someone’s 4th of July. I would like to see patrolling, enforcement and some fines getting slapped on the violators whether they are visitors or residents. Nothing seems to impede personal firework displays occurring week after week. Please, Dare County Sheriffs or NPS Patrol, just drive along any road that runs parallel to the beach front with a lot of big rental houses, and you will see and hear it all!

Natalie - 10-07-’16 12:36

Guest, spot on!

Friend - 27-07-’16 19:27

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