Local Laws: Shade Can Leave Shadow on Beach Etiquette

A day on the beach with family and friends can end up requiring quite a bit of gear – and that often includes tents and umbrellas to protect us from the hot sun while providing a home base for our group (and all their stuff). The dangers of sun and heat exposure are real out there, so adequate shade, no doubt, is essential to ensuring a good day on the beach.

But due to the mere number of these canopies being erected on the ocean beach – along with their size – many towns on the Outer Banks have taken steps to regulate tents and umbrellas so that someone’s shade doesn’t overshadow the experience of fellow beach goers, endanger wildlife, or most importantly, impede public safety.

Here’s a rundown of laws in various municipalities that are aimed at helping everyone have not only a great day at the beach, but a safe one:

Nags Head

In Nags Head, beachgoers are required to remove all equipment, including tents and canopies, from the beach between the hours of 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. Equipment left on the beach overnight is considered trash and will be removed by the municipality.

A new regulation just approved by Nags Head commissioners this year also limits the size and spacing of these structures to avoid the practice of large parties of beach goers establishing “tent cities” during the day. Tents must be limited to an area of 12 by 12 feet and a height of nine feet. In addition, tents must be spaced at a minimum of 10 feet apart.

Finally, ocean rescue employees have the authority to determine where tents or canopies are placed, or ask that they be moved, in order to ensure necessary lines of sight to the water as well as a sufficient pathway for first responder vehicles.

Kill Devil Hills

To the north in Kill Devil Hills, beach equipment that is placed or erected in such a way that it prevents or disrupts the passage of emergency or rescue vehicles is also prohibited. Beachgoers are also prohibited from placing umbrellas tents or canopies in a manner “as to obstruct the line of sight to the water from lifeguard stands or other Ocean Rescue surveillance areas.”

The town’s ordinance also prohibits any placement or storage of privately owned beach equipment left unattended on the beach between the hours of sunset and sunrise. The law also includes the overnight storage associated with any commercial business or rental company. All unattended beach equipment will be considered litter and be removed by the town.

Kitty Hawk

The town of Kitty Hawk does not have any regulations regarding tents or umbrellas.

Southern Shores

The Southern Shores ordinance prohibits any unattended personal property from being left on the beach between the hours of 5 p.m. and 7 a.m. Such property will be considered abandoned and thus removed. In addition, the placement of tents, canopies or umbrellas in a way that disrupts the passage of emergency vehicles or obstructs the line of sight of ocean rescue personnel is also prohibited.


The town of Duck was perhaps the first to implement regulations regarding tents and canopies, which date back to 2009. Unattended items in that town must be removed at 7 p.m. and the municipality prohibits tents from being tied together. In addition, tents must be limited to 12 by 12 feet in size.

Currituck County

Currituck County also has laws regulating unattended items, including canopies, umbrellas, nets, poles and grills. These items cannot be left on the beach overnight nor can they obstruct traffic or pedestrian movement during the day. According to the county’s website, “Any tagged items left on the beach after sunset will then be removed in order to ensure the safety of our beach visitors.  Unattended items that have been removed will not be returned.”

Hatteras Island

Within the Cape Hatteras National Seashore,leavingunattended property on the beach, such as chairs, toys, umbrellas, canopies, coolers, etc. is prohibited between sunset and sunrise. According to a 2016 article that appeared in Hatteras Island’s Island Free Press, the National Park Service will tag beach gear left overnight and will remove the items when possible.

(If you are unsure of the regulations regarding placement of tents and canopies, ask a lifeguard upon arriving at the beach. You’ll save yourself a lot of trouble from being told you have to move it once it is already erected. For more detailed information regarding a town’s beach regulations related to canopies or other issues, please visit their websites or contact the municipalities directly.)

Feature image above courtesy outsidepursuits.com

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