We don't mean to be the fun police, but there are certain rules (some official, some unspoken) that should be observed at the beach. To ensure maximum enjoyment for you and your fellow beach bums, be a good citizen with these 10 things you should and shouldn't do while soaking up the sun.
Don't forget headphones
We're sure you pick some really great beach tunes, but unfortunately, you are not the beach's DJ. Put your boombox away, John Cusack, and pack a portable MP3 player … with headphones, please. That way, everyone can enjoy their own playlists, trashy beach reads, or just the gentle sound of crashing waves.
Don't shake out your towel near others
Whether it's covered in sand or seawater, shake out your towel or blanket downwind from others. The same goes for clothing and shoes, those notorious receptacles for sand particles. Empty them out away from the towel next to you, lest you fling half the contents of the beach onto someone's Us Weekly.
Don't leave behind trash
This bit of etiquette should be obvious enough, but we've all seen someone haphazardly toss their garbage into the sand—or worse, the water. Careless trash disposal is exceptionally harmful to marine life, and it's unsightly to boot. Not all beaches come equipped with trash cans, so pack a plastic bag in your tote to dispose of food wrappers, old magazines, spent sunscreen bottles, and so on. And always remember to tear apart plastic soda rings and pitch your Styrofoam. Sea turtles and birds often mistake these for food and can die trying to digest the material.
Don't play among the crowds
Tossing a Frisbee or playing volleyball is great exercise when you're sunning on the beach, but it can be loud and intrusive for those who prefer to stay stationary. Keep your games away from high-density areas where others are lounging so you don't trample blankets, kick up sand, or accidentally hit a beachgoer in the noggin.
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The world may be your oyster, but the beach is not your ashtray. Not only can warm summer breezes blow secondhand smoke into the faces—and lungs—of your fellow beachgoers, but cigarette butts are actually harmful to the environment. (Cigarettes, which don't biodegrade in sand, can leach toxic chemicals and carcinogens into the water.) These reasons have inspired many beaches to adopt smoking bans, and those that haven't, should. So do your part and puff away in the parking lot, properly disposing of your butts and trash after you do.
Don't feed the seagulls
Sick of dining near a slew of seagulls, or seeing beachgoers feed them? Not only is this annoying, but it's actually unhealthy—for the gulls. These sea birds need to forage and stick to a natural diet; handouts of bread, fast food, and so forth can make them sick and lead to overcrowding in places that humans frequent, like beaches. Don't reinforce bad seagull behavior by feeding them; instead, carefully wrap your food and dispose of your trash. And don't fall for it when those gulls come begging: There are plenty of fish in the sea for them to snack on.
Don't run in the sand
You know how lifeguards are constantly yelling "Walk! Don't run!" at your community pool? We think that rule should be standard at the beach, too. While slippery tiles aren't a risk here, kicking up sand on everyone's beach blankets is—and it's hardly a good way to make new friends. Take off your shoes (even flip-flops) and calmly walk to your destination. If you want to go for a leisurely jog, stick to the wet, hard-packed sand at the water line.
Don't ignore local customs
As always when traveling, be respectful and observe local customs, including manners of dress and public behavior. Itty-bitty bikinis and lots of seaside PDA may be A-OK at home, but in some countries, it's frowned upon. On the other hand, in some areas of Europe and Australia, sunbathing in one's birthday suit isn't uncommon. Keep your camera in your bag and don't gawk—doing so is a big nude-beach no-no. (We recommend doing your research before you hit the sand.)
Don't let your dog roam unattended
The beach offers plenty of room for your dog to run. But keep an eye on Fido: While many breeds are good swimmers, dogs can get caught in nasty riptides just as easily as humans can. Bring a leash for your pup and make sure that, in case he does make his great escape, his tags clearly display your name and contact information. (And make sure to bring water; Animal Planet offers some helpful safety tips for bringing your dog a la plage.)
Don't ignore warnings
Those signs warning of riptides, strong currents, and jellyfish are there for a reason: to keep you and your fellow beachgoers safe. Heed any posted signage and monitor the color-coded flags throughout the day (New Hampshire, New Jersey, Florida, Alabama, and Texas all use standardized flag codes; other beaches may have their own systems). Remember that conditions may look ideal, but time and time again, people foolishly disregard caution and later require rescuing.