On any given beach day in Ocean City, as seen in the picture, numerous canopies are spread out on the beach along with umbrellas. Some resort governments – as close as neighboring Delaware — have decided to ban canopies on the beach, while others impose rules, and some have done nothing in the way of regulation. Ocean City falls into the latter category. We believe the answer is somewhere in the middle.
Resident Karl Dickel wrote a compelling letter to the Ocean City Mayor and Council earlier this month with a copy forwarded for publication in this space. Local property owner Scott Chismar encouraged the elected officials at a public meeting the week after to give Dickel’s letter some thought as he shared some of the same concerns about the proliferation of canopies on the beach. Similar opinions have been expressed in previous summers.
Dickel wrote, “I own a unit in the Capri condominium … Our beach has eroded to the point where there is less than 100 yards from dune line to water. Because of the large size of some of the canopies, it is common for users to go to the beach shortly after dawn to erect them. If they wait until the time that they actually want to use the canopy, it is possible that there will not be enough empty space to locate the canopy in the desirable location near the surf. The canopies then typically sit empty until about 11 a.m. when the users arrive on the beach for their day. The canopies have thereby enjoined use of that section of beach by others who may want to use it right then. In fully half of the cases that I have observed of late, the canopies continue to be empty, as the people who set them up are sitting in chairs outside the canopy, in the sun. This in essence converts large sections of beach to the “private property” of the canopy user. In some cases, there are guywires at each corner which further extends the territory reserved for the personal use of the canopy owner and constitutes a trip hazard to people passing by. In one case I observed a couple weeks ago, the user further extended his claim by planting small American flags around two very large canopies planted side by side. The total area taken up by this encampment was approximately 45 feet by 25 feet. …”
He continued, “On the Fourth of July, there were so many of the canopies crowding the beach that it was difficult to pick a path to the water. In summary, I object to the canopies because they: effectively restrict unreasonably large areas of the public beach to private use, unreasonably obstruct access to portions of the beach, are a safety hazard when guywires are used, and generally infringe on enjoyment of the beach by the general public.
The Ocean City Beach is intended to be a public park, and not intended to be staked out in large parcels for the private use of individuals. Myrtle Beach … has recognized the infringement on public use caused by these obtrusive structures and banned them from May 15 to Sept. 15. The only thing allowed is a round umbrella no more than 7-1/2 feet in diameter supported by a single center pole. No square shaped shelters are allowed.”
Dickel raises a number of interesting concerns in his letter. We believe he is right to ask the city to enact some sort of restrictions on canopies. Rather than focusing on size, we support restrictions on where the canopies can be erected and prohibiting them from being lumped together. There is a true safety concern with having these large canopies close to the shoreline. They can surely obstruct the view of the lifeguards as well as pose tripping hazards for beach-goers. Additionally, there are some decency standards to consider.
On one beach day recently, we observed six canopies connected on the eastern most point of the beach. It was a family reunion of some sort. The canopies were set up early in the morning and remained in place until later in the evening. The structures blocked the path of the beach for hundreds of people that day. Additionally, the views of lifeguards on either side clearly were clearly blocked. Similar occurrences play out throughout Ocean City.
If Ocean City wants to explore options, officials need to look no further than Delaware. Back in 2017, Rehoboth Beach Commissioners introduced and approved an ordinance banning canopies, grills and tents. The ordinance was structured to limit the size of umbrellas to Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island soon followed with their own bans. In the first year of Rehoboth’s canopy ban in 2017, there were 830 warnings and 26 citations issued against them.
The big difference between the Fenwick, Bethany and Rehoboth beaches and Ocean City’s is the width and size. Ocean City has room for these canopies, but they need to be placed toward the western side of the beach. We don’t think they should be banned. Visitors to Ocean City pay top dollar to enjoy their time here. If they want to maximize their shade and beach area, they should be allowed to do it, but not at the risk of public safety and poor beach etiquette.
Ocean City may want to review Nags Head, N.C.’s rules, including canopies not being set up within 10 feet; dimensions can not exceed 12 feet square and nine feet tall; canopies cannot be left out overnight; and they must not in any fashion block lifeguard views.
We do believe it’s time for the city to take a deep dive on canopies from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but we think regulations need to be centered on location, size and groupings rather than a prohibition. There are room for canopies on the beach, but they must be located where public safety is not a concern and other beach-goers’ experience is not dampened.