Independent and FREE - 2021 Best Online Publication

Jane’s guide to proper etiquette at the beach

Independent and FREE – 2021 Best Online Publication (Qld Country Press)

Jane’s guide to proper etiquette at the beach


Dr Jane Stephens' guide to proper etiquette on crowded beaches

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The giant swell birthed by Cyclone Seth may have abated, but let’s try not to let our manners go out with the tide.

Despite patchy weather, our beaches are bumper-to-bumper and people seem to have forgotten the Australian way — showing courtesy to those who share our great sandy spaces.

Maybe the thrill of freedom for interstaters previously locked up has aggravated the problem, or maybe people have spent too little time on the sand this year to remember how to play nicely.

Perhaps, along with a reminder of what the flags mean and why wearing sunscreen is imperative on the Sunshine Coast, a rundown of beach etiquette should be broadly distributed.

Here is my two-cents’ worth on a topic that should be a social discussion for this summer:


Stepping away from people before shaking out your towel is good manners. But beachgoers think nothing of shaking their towel precisely where they stand – even if it’s a few centimetres away from the next ocean lover. Being sprayed with grit is rude and uncomfortable.


A beach is not a giant creche, but parents so often hit the sand and switch off. Maybe they figure that with a zillion people around, including life savers and guards, someone else is sure to see a drowning, lost or annoying child and save their life, help them find their parents or discipline them. In this instance at least, some parents have embraced the notion that it takes a village to raise a child. But the rest of the village is relaxing too.

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Why, as our girth has collectively increased, has the size of togs decreased? Do they even make proper bikini pants anymore? Muffin tops and butt cheeks protrude from thread-like tog bottoms. Burnt bosoms flop over tiny tops: nothing is left to the imagination. And there are plenty of blokes at the beach who really should consider something more substantial too. These are public – not pubic – places, after all.


For about 15 years, smoking has been banned between the flags from the waterline to the road. But that has not stopped puffers from scooting away and dropping their butts (presumably sometimes while showing their butts – see above) for someone else to pick up. It is staggeringly common. Any little beach walk away from the red-and-yellow zone will render evidence. The stinky habit leaves behind equally horrible litter.


Remember that there are no walls on beaches, so every conversation can be overheard. It’s advisable to go easy on the colourful lingo and domestic rumpus. And remember that every action can be seen, so save the private-place scratching for a time that is, well, more private.


When a beach neighbour goes in for a dip, this is not the signal to stomp on, walk over or otherwise mess up their towel or Cool Cabana. To lay out a towel is to stake a claim: the little bit of sand it lies on is mine until I have finished dipping and lazing and head for home.

With a little more consideration of others, our beaches could really be a summertime wonderland. And the improvement costs nothing but thought.

Jane Stephens is a USC journalism lecturer, media commentator and writer. The views expressed are her own.