The Urbanite's Guide to Beach Etiquette

It's hot. Are you going to the beach this weekend, city-dweller who lives near an urban beach? Do you know how to behave at said locale, not only there but on your way there and on your way home again? Here are some rules.

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It's hot. Are you going to the beach this weekend, urban-dweller who lives near an urban beach? Do you know how to behave at said locale, not only there but on your way there and on your way home again? You may balk at our request to remind yourself gently of the blah-blah "rules," but you know, it's for everyone's good. Most rules of etiquette are really about getting what you want for yourself in the most graceful way possible, without bothering or inconveniencing anyone else. There are special rules for the beach, and it's been a long time since we've all gone to the beach, maybe! The beach is hot, and people may be cranky, and there may be crowds—all the better for adopting a little bit of extra conscientiousness in and around the beach. Why not? It's fun!

Beach PDA. I'm sorry but it's true. This should be avoided. Yes, fine, you can fall asleep next to your loved one. You can hold hands as you walk through the sand. You can even cuddle on your blanket. But please do not engage in full-on groping in the sand or in the water. No one needs to see that; and also, there's a question of how hygienic it really is. You run the risk of bothering both those in love and those jealous of your love with your frenetic pat-downs and tongue-y smooches, so, you know, just be aware. Seek a private spot if it's PDA or nothing for you. Or, yes, cover your faces with towels. That's good for the prevention of sunburns, too!

Beach Bathroom Etiquette. Speaking of hygienic and less hygienic things, once and for all, it is really not ideal to pee in the ocean. Not just for the ocean and its other denizens, but even for you. At the same time, it's also maybe not ideal to pee in the questionably maintained lavatory on site, which requires waiting in a very long line. And it's never good to "hold it." You have some options. Go into a restaurant, buy a beverage, sit in the cool for a bit (shade is nice!) and then use their facilities before you depart. Use the public facility, taking care not to leave a bigger mess than the one you found (and maybe squat? I don't know. You decide what's right for you). Do not allow your toddler to poop in the ocean. Do not allow your adult friends to poop in the ocean. If you're going to pee in the ocean (and I can't stop you, though I can urge caution), swim away from the crowd, make sure that you are downstream, not up, and do what you need to do.

Beach Drinking. The more you drink, the more you have to deal with the above. So be aware of that. In other beach-drinking notes: Glass on the beach is not good! If you've got a cooler full of lovely cold things, it's O.K. to share! Don't get so drunk that you start making other etiquette mistakes. You're going to have to find your way home at some point.

Beach Clichés. Don't be this. Don't be a Snooki. Don't give anyone that "footprints in the sand" postcard, they already have it. Don't collect beach glass, or buy a bottles full of sand from your favorite beach. Don't walk around drinking a Long Island Iced Tea bigger than your own head. Don't get arrested. Don't stumble around and then pass out in the sand so that people worry they should call an ambulance for you. Don't be obnoxious. Don't wear a Speedo. Unless you are at a nude beach, do wear clothing. Don't take pictures of your own feet and post them on Facebook. Or do! Just know who you are. 

Beach Hair. This, according to the lady mags, is what we all want this season: It is attached to your head, long and lustrous but sort of tangled and maybe messy, good for walking through fetid city streets just the same as it is good for flowing behind you as you surf. Beach hair products and methods abound, but there's one key note for etiquette, here. Don't let your beach hair touch someone else while en route to the beach, or at the beach. People don't like that! Also, as with all personal hygienic type behaviors, probably don't brush your beach hair in the sand.

Beach Skin Care. This is not etiquette so much as it is simple health, but do take precautions so that you don't burn. It can hurt others to look at your lobster-red skin, and we worry about you, we do.

Lifeguard Etiquette. Pay attention to what the lifeguard says. He or she is there to help you, not to infringe on your rights. And no one wants to see things go safety-awry on a beach day. That's so upsetting.

Towel Placement. One of the absolute worst things people do at the beach is pick up a beach towel without even a thought and in doing so allow the wind to viciously embed many fine grains of sand into your eyes and sensitive flesh. When placing your towel, look around. Make sure you're not putting it right on top of someone who's already claimed that spot. If the whole beach is empty but for one other person and you put your towel right in front of them, blocking their view, that's grounds for beach dismissal. And when you pack up, raise your towel carefully, slowly, and conscientiously. Also, pick up your trash and take it with you when you leave.

Beach Transport. You're happy, you're going to the beach, you can't wait, and your exuberance shows. But you could wear something in addition to your swimsuit on the train. You could not blast music from your musical-blasting-object so loud that everyone else can hear it whether they want to or not. When boarding whatever transport you take to the beach, do be aware that your umbrella pole and seven folding chairs and giant cooler may get in the way of others! Do not block the exits. If you are driving to the beach and are stuck in traffic, give no more than one person who cuts you off the finger.

Your Tone. Inside voices are generally intended for the inside, and they are quieter than the voices we use for the outside. So if you go inside, switch to the former. If you're screaming at someone to look out for that shark, use the outside voice. If you go inside and, say, dine at an establishment or purchase souvenirs or whatever you're doing, it's nice to say, without shouting, please and thank you and even, if you are so inclined, "have a nice day." Smile! It's nice and will make you feel beachy.

Beach Alternatives. By no means do you have to go to the beach. It's an option, as is sitting on your couch in front of the air conditioner eating popsicles, or going to movie after movie in an air-conditioned theater, or lying on a blanket in the park. You can do any of these things; you can do none, but the key to urban etiquette in particular is maintaining an awareness that there are many people in a small space, so you should think of them, just a little bit (not too much, just enough!) in addition to thinking of yourself, as we all are wont to do. So, yes, conscientiousness is cool! Unless you're in your own apartment, in which case, pee in the ocean all you want.

Happy beaching, whatever you do. 

Inset via Flickr/annie_stru; Flickr/ buckle1535; Flickr/jp3g.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.