Beach Etiquette Question


Beach Etiquette question that needs to be asked.

Social media posts, in recent days and weeks, have seen complaints about a beach etiquette question. Mainly, the use of large private canopies set up early on the beach and left unoccupied until much later in the day.

Is this an escalating trend? Is it a problem? If so, do we need a beach etiquette policy?

What follows is a blog post  that resulted from an email I  was sent by a Cape May visitor. It was also sent to the Star and Wave and to each member of city council. I won’t put the entire email in this blog, rather excerpts with links to the entire version if you wish to read it.

If you know me I am an advocate for all Cape May visitors (and locals). But, is there are beach etiquette question that needs to be asked?

“What I am referring to is the proliferation of tents and canopies. We have gotten used to the inconsiderate people who go to the beach at 7am and set up chairs on the high tide line and not appear until mid-day. That was bad enough but now these space pigs have set up the tents and or canopies at the same time,”  writes the emailer.

“We have an extended family of approximately thirty members who have vacationed at the same time in Cape May every year since 1983,” He continued.

Large Tents and Canopies No Longer Welcome on Some Beaches

This is not a new problem. Articles dating back to 2013, start to look at the complaints.

Other towns are getting on the bandwagon of restricting smoking and other behaviors on the beach. Rehoboth, Delaware and Seaside Heights in New Jersey have recently enacted canopy bans.

I took a lot of heat as Chamber of Commerce president, when I opposed the all-out smoking ban on Cape May’s beaches in 2011. Thinking still, it could be partitioned off to the beach entrance areas.

If there is a trend in the proliferation of tents and canopies, towns should be monitoring and discussing the issue. Tommy and Patty’s email was sent to council (and me) last August. A new administration took over in January.

With little over a month to go till Memorial Day, the beach etiquette question needs to be asked. Is there a problem? What should be done about it? Your thoughts?




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  1. A Keen
    April 25, 2017 / 11:54 am

    We vacation every year at the same time as well…we are on Grant St. beach. There is one family that does this. The patriarch arrives around 8:00 and sets up multiple umbrellas and chairs, spreading them out. The rest of the family wanders down from 2 – 4 hours later.
    Then we have the Rusty Nail spreading out their umbrellas and chairs on the other side. In June many of these are not used all day.
    We have to walk a fair way to find a spot, especially if we arrive later in the morning. I love Cape May, but if Rehoboth can ban some of this activity, I say CM should as well.

  2. Adrienne
    April 25, 2017 / 12:07 pm

    I would love to see the hotels use of the beach monitored more closely. They arrive at the crack of dawn and set up chairs and umbrellas along the full stretch of the beach at the water line. And keep them set up long after they have been vacated. I have also seen them, tell beach goers who set up in front of their chairs that they have to move. Poor visitors don’t know any better and think the hotels own the beach.

    • Kathy
      April 25, 2017 / 9:57 pm

      I agree with you. The hotels are staking claim to beaches that are public. They advertise “private beaches” ? I am told they are only allowed to set up beach chairs and umbrellas when patrons arrive, but we all know they set up at 8am. I’ve had them move my beach chairs in years past while we were in the ocean!

    • tracy datemasch
      April 25, 2017 / 10:21 pm

      I would love a Hotel to tell me to move…………….I got one word for them. It’s spelled N. O.

    • Carol
      April 25, 2018 / 10:24 am

      I agree with you. We have a home on Maryland and have encountered the “ hotel issue” as well as the canopy one.

  3. Kim
    April 25, 2017 / 12:22 pm

    I agree with rules for tents. I have gone to the beach, just me and the hubby, sat along the high tide line, only to have a family come along and set up umbrellas and tents within 6 Inches of my towel in front…then when tide comes n they try t move back onto my towels….tents should be required to be set up towards the back of the beach…

  4. Dee
    April 25, 2017 / 12:44 pm

    I use a beach toward Poverty Beach. The young men working for the motel there set up umbrellas and chairs before any of the motel occupants arrive. I do not have a problem with the motels and hotels providing these additional amenities for their guests. I have a problem with them setting up before anyone arrives to request them. Also I hope the city is being fairly compensated for this practice. I know each guest already arrives on the beach with a tag. I thought motels and hotels were not permitted to bulk purchase and reuse beach tags. What is the current rule regarding the bulk purchase of beach tags?

  5. Lois snyder
    April 25, 2017 / 1:40 pm

    I agree with Kim above. No tents or canopies close to the waters edge. Some common sense and respect for others regarding music and “personal” space would be nice. I would love to have smoking banned -especially cigars- but I doubt that will ever happen. Or be able to be enforced. People think the rules don’t apply to them. Can’t tell you how many dogs and bikes I see on the mall. Clearly listed under the “No” on the signs.

    • sue
      June 5, 2017 / 8:55 am

      But the entitlement society now a days has no common sense or respect.

  6. Margaret Houlihan
    April 25, 2017 / 2:20 pm

    We are a family of 15 who vacations together every year. This coming summer we will have a two month old infant. We have a number of people who are not allowed in the sun for extended periods of time. Why should we not be allowed to enjoy the beach the same as others. We pay for our beach tags the same as everyone else. We set up a popup that provides shade, but can be seen through. We set up between 10 and 11 and everyone arrives by 11:15. If we do not set up our popup and chairs, we cannot sit together. This defeats the purpose of a family vacation plus the fact that we have some who cannot spend a lot of time in the sun due to medical issues. Your idea to eliminate umbrellas, popups and tents disregards the issues of those who wish to go to the beach. Family time and health is important, too. We take up less space than five families of three people each. How would you like us to enjoy family time and the beach? If you were in this situation, would you want to sit at the dune/promenade wall so that others with smaller groups could take advantage of the water’s edge? Why does everything need to be regulated? Common sense is not part of some people, but should that be the regulating factor? Some of the people who would be responsible for the creation of these regulations may not be beach-goers at all. Their voting would be based on those who have complaints about the tents. There is noting from preventing people with chairs from going to the beach earlier and setting up their chairs.

    • Jackie Kane
      April 26, 2017 / 6:25 pm

      I didn’t read that anyone is implying you can’t enjoy the beach the same as others. And I don’t think anyone is suggesting elimination of umbrellas, popups and tents! The issue, it seems, is people who go to the beach to “reserve” a spot with their chairs, tents, umbrellas or whatever, and then don’t show up till much later. So, no need to play the “health card.” I’m sure virtually half or more of the people on the beach have similar issues with the sun. Removing your protection from the sun is NOT the issue. Let’s not digress… And family time?? Please! Does no one take responsibility for their own lives anymore?! It seems you’re saying that if you don’t CLAIM your space with your chairs, popup, etc., that everyone in your family cannot sit together and you want to know “how (others) would like you to enjoy family time and the beach?” (Strike up the Violins!!!) WELL…. If it’s so important to you, how about you all communicate on a time to meet together to set up and spend your beach time together, however long that may be…. not “stake your claim” ahead of time, preventing others from the “prime beach” while you all sleep in, get breakfast or take your time getting there because you know you have a space. The ISSUE here is it’s not fair for others who go to the beach and have trouble finding a place to set up because of a bunch of empty “reserved” spots, whether it be by the general public or hotel chair/umbrella and cabana set ups!

      You are right, “There is noting from preventing people with chairs from going to the beach earlier and setting up their chairs.” And that’s where the issue is! People can do it, that doesn’t make it right. Cape May seems to get more crowded every year, so more and more people who get to the beach on time, are having difficulty finding a decent spot, not because of people there before them, but because of “reserved spots.” So, while there’s nothing to prevent them, no law, that doesn’t always mean it’s right. The tents themselves, are a separate issue, not in that they should be banned, but is it right for the beach view and ocean breeze to be blocked because of an increasing number of tents / popups lining the “front row along the ocean?”

    • Amy
      April 25, 2018 / 8:11 am

      Margaret, you are one of the considerate ones that set up your pop up. I believe the issue is with ones that set them up early in the morning and do not go down until later in the day. In my opinion though, the pop ups should only be permitted to be set up a ways above the high tide line. I honestly am disappointed when someone sets up a large pop up, with sides and blocks my view of the ocean. It is not that people are in from of me, but that the tent is. I also have an issue with not being able to sit in the sun. I use an umbrella.

  7. Shirley Swardenski
    April 25, 2017 / 3:03 pm

    For me, it asks the question about our community. We live here year round in a gracious ( my opinion) condo community. Not everyone agrees about everything but we all agree about people wanting to live in this community and mostly , this works. So what do we as a community want to offer in our beaches so that others also will want to be part of a gracious community, if only on vacation.

  8. Debbie
    April 25, 2017 / 4:00 pm

    Perry Street beach has been infiltrated for many years with Cape Resorts’ umbrellas and lounge chairs. When this custom initially took
    hold beach chairs and umbrellas only occupied Congress beach. As Cape Resorts expanded the beaches to each side shrunk due to them setting up for their guests. I was fed up looking at the rear of Cape Resorts chairs and umbrellas and I now enjoy a much better beach where I can actually view the ocean.

    • A Keen
      April 25, 2017 / 5:59 pm

      I am certainly not anti-tourist, as even after 65 years of visiting Cape May County I am still a tourist myself, but surely there are some ordinances that address this issue?

  9. Jonathan A.
    April 25, 2017 / 5:18 pm

    I think the best solution can be derived from the adage “A time & place for everything.” Setting up an umbrella & a few belongings (towel/ beach bag/ etc) is a time-old tradition. My family started visiting Cape May on a yearly basis in the early 1960’s. Admirably, Cape May has always been a family-friendly locale with people who rarely steal/ upset the belongings of others. We would “stake out” a spot between 7 and 8 am, go have breakfast, put on our bathing suits, & hit the beach, leaving for 60 to 90 minutes around noon for lunch, then return. I don’t think anyone finds issue (I hope) with that.

    As far as the tents are concerned, there should be a location (toward the back of the beaches- with the other permanent tent-like fixtures) for setting up tents & other large belongings. If necessary, the City could designate one or two specific beaches as “Tent Beaches” where you can set up anywhere you please.

  10. DK
    April 25, 2017 / 6:54 pm

    I spent every summer in the ’60’s and ’70’s on the beach near Broadway. I have to admit I never noticed anyone setting up early in the morning and leaving their chairs, umbrellas, etc. We usually got to the beach around 10AM and headed out by 3PM to get to work. If individuals set up a “spot” I really don’t have a problem with it. If hotels and motels are taking the space then you may have to put rules in place to relegate the commercial “spots” toward the back of the beach. If I am paying to use the beach, I would expect competition from other beach visitors, but the commercial competition would be annoying.

  11. Rosie
    April 25, 2017 / 9:10 pm

    The Cove Beach Gang… Is guilty ? We set up chairs , umbrellas.

  12. Jack
    April 26, 2017 / 8:41 am

    I am a local. (born here) Last year I never used my tag. I usually walk the beach when I have to wear a parka… Never noticed a crowd problem.

  13. Jackie Kane
    April 26, 2017 / 6:38 pm

    These are all valid issues and unfortunate. I always considered myself a “beach person” but the last couple of years I’ve found myself preferring “off season” for quality beach time. Everything from the issues mentioned above to experiencing the rudeness of people, not being able to sit where the breeze didn’t result in wafting cigarette or cigar smoke blowing towards me, difficulty getting a spot where I could even see the ocean waves crashing or feel some breeze, people expressing anger at the chirping of sea gulls…. who were there long before us! Sea gulls are part of the experience! – I know I’m getting on another subject here, but it’s all about the changing beach experience. I experienced a sea gull who was obviously in distress (two days in a row) and needing help. I called the Nature Center, others wanted to hunt down the poor thing because it chirped too much. It’s sad.

    We’ve gone full circle from back in the 60’s when Cape May had so many rules… no bikinis, no changing clothes on beach or by the car, no walking around town in a bathing suit without a cover up, etc…. to now, where there are virtually no laws regarding the beach other than “no dogs,” and there are more and more people and it seems many “entitlement” issues going on (i.e., I paid my beach tag, I can do whatever I want). As for the dogs, just like kids, they are as good or as bad as their “parents” teach them to be!

  14. April 27, 2017 / 7:37 am

    I’d lived in several beach towns in Cape May county for years throughout my life before moving to New Orleans. We have, during Mardi Gras, the same jockeying for position on the “neutral ground” (referred to as medians back home), and sometimes even days before! I’ve seen things get pretty contentious over the years as people’s presumptuous land grabbing was summarily disrespected, generally by locals who’ve seen it all. Well, after a few years of the police being called in to mollify constant absurd quarrels, they decided to act. At 6 a.m. the morning of the parade, sanitation just removes anything and everything on the neutral grounds thereby re-rendering the grounds neutral. A sobering wake up call for the entitled.

  15. JB
    May 5, 2017 / 7:36 pm

    The tents and canopies only bother me because they can block people’s view but we just work our way around them so we can see the ocean. It’s really not a big deal for people to go down early and set up chairs for their family and you can do the same by going down early enough to set up.

  16. Marguerite C
    May 8, 2017 / 11:20 am

    I have been visiting Cape May for over 30 yrs. & I love it! Would love to retire there. It is true that there are what I call “tribes” that claim a part of the beach but my husband & I try to avoid them since we like quiet – we look to go away from the crowd. Sometimes though we are already on the beach & a group will come & plant themselves very close, block our view of the ocean & not respect the space. The beach is so wide – why can’t people have consideration for one another? This should also apply to the Hotels as well. The beach is for everyone’s use – have been to Cape Cod where beach access is restricted in certain areas & you can’t even sit for a moment. Who wants that? Without this consideration it may come to that with the restrictions.

  17. Debbie
    May 15, 2017 / 4:08 am

    Having a big family, the Canopies have been a God send. We were all trying to get shade in the extreme heat with umbrellas. We do set up in the back of the beach. If we want an ocean view we carry our chairs up to the waters edge and sit for a little bit. I do worry when empty umbrellas are left open and fly away and could hurt someone. Someone always jumps up and assist on retrieving it. Loud cell phone use, cigarette smoke, and foul language are my pet peeves.

    • Amy
      April 25, 2018 / 8:18 am

      You are one of the good ones Debbie. I totally agree about the cigarette smoke. I hate it!! I don’t mind the cigars so much. Not as many ppl smoke them and they don’t chain smoke them either. My husband enjoys a cigar once in a while and will wait until the end of the day to smoke it on the beach. Even then is only for about 15 minutes or so

  18. Robin Barsky
    April 25, 2018 / 9:59 am

    One of the changes I have seen in the 35 years that I have been coming to Cape May is some beachgoer’s complete disregard or courtesy for others. I have had towels, umbrellas, tents, set up within inches of where I am sitting. Kids playing ball directly in front of me, with no adult advising them to move to one side or the other, so as not to hit people with the ball. I come for the view and sound of the ocean. While I may appreciate your taste in music, I don’t know why I must be forced to hear it! I agree with the complaints of smelly cigars. My husband usually comes down early and sets up some chairs and umbrellas before we get there. Getting “the perfect spot” is part of our beach going ritual . We just aren’t very nice to each other anymore, even in Cape May.