Our wonderful co-founder and editor, Irene Nolan, had a relaxed tradition of posting an annual list of beach etiquette guidelines for new and long-time visitors alike.
Initially launched decades ago when she was the editor of the now defunct Island Breeze, Irene’s guide was a smart and timely list of the dos and don’ts when exploring our islands.
Irene passed away in March of 2017, but we have continued this tradition annually – using her words, verbatim – as both a tribute to our co-founder, and because her advice remains as relevant as it ever was.
The summer of 2020 is, obviously, a little different.
This year, we still have the time-tested and standard guidance for newcomers, (like air down your tires and don’t leave equipment on the beach overnight), but we also have new guidelines relevant to COVID-19, which are unprecedented.
As such, we would like to share with you Irene’s original column, “Beach manners – a matter of etiquette and the law,” which was her last Beach Manners blog, and which was published on July 1, 2016. (On a personal note, I love going through our IFP archives and reading Irene’s many blogs, which has become a regular habit in the past three years. Yes, it makes me miss her all over again, but it also makes me remember her voice, which always came through crystal clear in her writing.)
But before we share Irene’s words, let’s start by including our “New in 2020” beach manners guidelines, which are derived from Dare County and the state, as North Carolina remains in Phase II of reopening in the wake of COVID-19.
Beach Manners for 2020:
First of all, early summer visitors will notice that our island landscape is a little different this year.
Under Phase II of North Carolina’s lifting of Coronavirus-related restrictions, some businesses will remain closed in the weeks to come, including bars, night clubs, gyms, and indoor entertainment venues, such as movie theaters.
Certain businesses, like retail shops and restaurants, are open to the public, with corresponding requirements and recommendations, including limiting capacity to 50% for restaurants, salons, barbers, and public pools.
So, with this environment in mind, here is what COVID-19-era visitors should know when it comes to beach etiquette:
- Please stay at least 6 feet apart from other groups on the beach. We have miles of shoreline to go around, so this won’t be too much of a challenge.
- When waiting in line at a restaurants, stores, ice cream shops, or any business, please try to stand at least 6 feet apart as well. Grocery stores have markers on the floor indicating the proper distance when standing in line, so when in doubt, look down.
- When grocery shopping, please follow guided paths through the store when applicable. When I went to Food Lion and first discovered their new arrow-infused layout, (which leads you up one aisle and down another), I admit that my old brain got confused and I felt like I was unsuccessfully playing a game of real-life Pac-Man. But try to follow this new traffic pattern regardless, as it makes it easier to avoid close contact with other shoppers, and I can attest that you do get used to it after any initial confusion.
- Please wear masks or cloth face coverings when out and about in public. Per the Dare County website, the CDC advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus, and to help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Simply put, it’s an act of common courtesy, and there are several stores on the island that require masks and face coverings to enter.
- Please tip. In North Carolina, servers and wait staff make about $2.13 an hour, because the majority of their income is based on tips. Well, with restaurants operating at 50% capacity, and take-out and to-go orders becoming the norm, servers are taking a financial hit this summer. So please tip when you can, even if it’s for carry-out service.
- Please be patient! We know that you’ve had a couple of hard months dealing with COVID-19 in your hometown, and I promise, we have too. After weeks of being isolated, the Outer Banks reopened to all visitors on May 16, and we truly went from a winter landscape to our typical hopping summer landscape overnight.
And we’re ALL adjusting to these never-before-seen restrictions, while working hard to open as best as we can for our visitors.
Don’t get me wrong – we’re thrilled to have you back, and it is finally starting to feel a little like a normal summer season, which is a big relief. But just know that we’re all adapting, and a little patience and a smile or two will go a long way in making every day better. (And yes, we can still tell you’re smiling even if you’re wearing a mask.)
There are obviously other guidelines as well, like stay home if you currently have COVID-19 or don’t blow your nose on others, but these kind of fall under the universal “common sense” umbrella.
So now that we’ve covered 2020-specific etiquette, without further ado, here is Irene’s exceptional and evergreen guide to better beach behavior, word for word.
Even with COVID-19, her advice never goes out of style.
BEACH MANNERS – A MATTER OF ETIQUETTE AND THE LAW
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 http://www.nps.gov/caha/planyourvisit/permitsandreservations.htm#Update)
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.
A WORD ABOUT OUTDOOR LIGHTS
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!