15 Old-Fashioned Beach Etiquette Rules

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The season of bonfires, flip-flops, and beach parties is in full swing, but don’t stick your manners under your bed with your winter jackets and boots. Here are 15 pieces of behavioral advice from the 19th and early 20th centuries to keep in mind.

1. It’s Classy to Keep the Beach Clean.


An abundance of trashcans and recycle bins don’t always lead to cleaner public spaces—they’re only as effective as the people who use them. Advice columnists as far back as the 1930s believed that disposing of your rubbish didn’t just help the environment, it also meant you had class.

2.  Don’t Entertain Yourself By Throwing Sand.

No one likes when sunbathing is interrupted by a pile of sand to the face or a tennis ball to the back of the head. While there’s nothing wrong with getting active by the shore, keep away from other people. And this advice from 70 years ago is just as relevant today: “Make sure your kids don’t find their day’s entertainment tossing sand.”

3. Keep the Noise Down, No Matter Where It’s Coming From.

Decades ago, blasting portable radios was the major beach no-no. Now the problem comes from cell phones’ speakers. Keep your headphones in or your music turned down low enough so only you and your friends can hear it.

4.  Keep Your Picnic Food Simple.


Sure, a fancy picnic basket may look like a good idea in the store, but the best picnics are inexpensive and feature basic refreshments. “The less spent on a picnic,” one columnist advised in 1911, “the better it is. By this I mean, keep it a picnic.” Save your elaborate salads for your next dinner party.

5.  Don’t Be Mean to Fake Tanners. 

Tanning products have certainly improved over the last hundred years. In the trend’s early days, women used tea bags to give themselves that natural glow, and unlike some of the fake tanning products of today, these homemade remedies weren’t waterproof. Old etiquette guides advised beachgoers not to dwell on fellow swimmers’ diminishing bronze tones.

6.  Don’t Test Out Whether or Not Someone Is Using Fake Tanner, Either. 

One 1910 article on beach etiquette instructed people to avoid the temptation to dunk a woman’s head in the water to see if she applied a fake tanner. Over a century later, it’s still sound advice.

7.  Fill In the Holes.

If you’re digging a hole in the sand, make sure to fill it back up before you leave to prevent anyone from falling in and getting hurt. You should do this regardless of how deep you dig, even though an original law written in California in 1966 said that a hole only had to be covered if it was more than two feet deep.

8. Cover Up or Pay the Price.

Dress codes go out the window when you’re on the beach, but when you’re walking to and from your sandy destination, keep your shirt on. In Palm Beach, Florida in 1936, a man would be fined $2.50 for not wearing a top with his swim trunks. Even if modesty isn’t an issue for you, it’s still good practice to protect yourself from the sun.

9. Kids Should Behave on the Way to the Beach.


Vacationing with children is hard, and loud kids and exhausted travelers have never mixed. Thankfully, these days it’s easier to keep them occupied—early etiquette books suggested you make kids sit silently on the beach. Good luck with that.

10. Don’t Be the Last One at the Beach Party.

A valuable piece of 19th century etiquette advises party guests to hit the bricks when the hosts say they’re ready to go to bed. It’s hard to stay friends with the person who’s still at your house the morning after you said goodnight.

11. And Leave the Party Early if Your Date Has Had Enough. 

Early guides advised that if you’re attending a beach party with a date or a friend, keep an eye on his or her mood. If he or she starts losing energy or appears grumpy, roll up your towel, slip on your sandals, and head on out.

12. Don’t Send Last-Minute Invites. 

A perfect 19th century beach BBQ host would send out invitations eight to 10 days in advance instead of giving everyone a few days—or hours—of notice. Sending out the invites earlier makes it look like you actually want your friends to be there and aren’t just scrambling at the last minute to get more people to split the cost of food.

13. Keep Your Youthful Energy Away From Older Folks.


One old etiquette guide warned young beach-goers to keep their noise and public displays of affection away from older groups so as not to disturb them.

14. Don’t Comment on Swimwear Choices. 

Sure, sometimes people make interesting stylistic choices when it comes to bathing suits, but avoid making comments about them. This bit of advice comes from a 1937 beach guide, and it still holds today.

15. Don’t Pretend to Drown.

If you think pretending to drown will lead to getting saved and romanced by the lifeguard, think again. When a Los Angeles newspaper asked lifeguards about beach safety back in 1958, one said to not waste lifeguards’ time by crying wolf. Even if they do come and save you, it’s not effective or safe flirting.