Beach rules: No glass, some alcohol, don’t feed the seagulls

Beach rules vary by town, so be sure to check in with signs posted at public beach accesses or on the town’s websites before heading to the shore. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — With summer in full swing, it seems there is no better time than the present to rehash a few rules area beach towns have put in place for visitors. 

First and foremost, for your own safety, it’s wise to check in with rip current reports and pay attention to the flags flying to indicate the water’s safety: green means go, yellow means swim with caution as currents are moderate, and red indicates dangerous conditions and to avoid swimming in the ocean.

Now, for a few unspoken rules most locals live by: Never feed the seagulls — unless you want a swarm following your every move and conjuring a scene from Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” Plus, a diet of fries and chips isn’t so healthy for the gulls, which subsist on fish and insects (and you’re taking a risk for their waste to make it onto your swimsuit or beach towel or someone else’s nearby).

Also, when clearing towels or throws from the sand, gently fold and walk away from the crowds before shaking them loose. No one wants to look like a sugar cookie or end up with a mouthful of granules.

While the above are merely common courtesies, there are other rules that come with a set of fines when broken. For instance, don’t walk on the dunes. Ever. It is illegal at North Carolina beaches, which need dunes for protection against erosion. Fines vary, but in Surf City, for example, are $500. 

Also, if you dig a hole, fill it before you leave — else it’s a hazard to beachgoers, wildlife (like endangered sea turtle hatchlings) and emergency vehicles that need to pass through. In Kure Beach, for example, you could be slapped with a $100 fee for not abiding.

And back to the sea turtles — they are protected by federal law, so don’t disturb their brooding areas alone, which often are roped off by area turtle rescue groups. For hatchlings to properly make their way to the ocean when the time is near (nesting season is May 1 until Oct. 31), vacationers are advised to turn off all outside lights at beachside rentals. Also, never shine a flashlight near the nests, else it could disorient the turtles, which need natural illumination to find the ocean. 

Not that it should be said, but … well, it needs to be said: Littering is illegal and can cost you (upward of $1,000 in Surf City). The same goes for fireworks that leave the ground (Roman candles, bottle rockets, firecrackers, spinners, aerial fireworks) — it’s a $500 fine and class 2 misdemeanor.

But what about booze or bonfires, camping, fishing and surfing? Here’s a breakdown of rules at area beaches from Topsail to Oak Island. If broken, fines vary within each town.

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH

Booze — No.

Smoking — No.

Tents, canopies, umbrellas, shades, chairs — Yep. You’re welcome to set them up, but be sure to take them when you leave. It’s illegal to abandon beach gear.

Glass containers — Never.

Grills, camping stoves, cooking devices — Sorry. Bring your food ready to eat.

Surf fishing — Go for it, but you need a saltwater fishing license, awarded to anglers 16 and older through the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s website. Shore fishing is not allowed near bridges or piers. 

Driving on the beach — Nah. Go to Carolina Beach’s Freeman Park.

Surfing — Yep, but nowhere there is a “No Surfing” sign posted, nor within 650 feet of the piers, the jetty, and the lifeguard stands.

Pets — During the height of tourist season, April 1 through Sept. 30, pets are not allowed on the beach. They can be walked surfside on a leash from Oct. 1 through March 30 only and all waste must be picked up by pet owners.

Bonfires — Negative. 

Camping — Nope.

See all WB ordinances here.

CAROLINA BEACH

Booze — At Freeman Park, beer only or malt beverages are permitted in cans — no glass bottles, and no spirituous liquor or fortified wine. Otherwise, alcohol is not permitted on the beach within the limits of Town of Carolina Beach, nor at Carolina Beach State Park.

Smoking — No. 

Tents, canopies, umbrellas, shades, chairs — Yep, but if you leave them behind they will be confiscated. 

Glass containers — Never. 

Grills, camping stoves, cooking devices — Not on beaches within the Town of Carolina Beach, but feel free to brings them to Freeman Park and Carolina Beach State Park.

Surf fishing — Go for it, but you need a saltwater fishing license, awarded to anglers 16 and older through the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s website. Shore fishing is not allowed near bridges or piers. 

Driving on the beach — Freeman Park allows four-wheel drives, but a pass is required. It’s $40 a day or $60 for the weekend, available here and at the entrance, pending the park isn’t full. Visitors should air down tires to 20 psi or lower to avoid getting stuck.

Surfing — Yep, but not allowed within 500 feet of any pier.

Pets — Leashed dogs are allowed on the beach within Carolina Beach before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m. between April 1 and Sept. 30 and at all hours from Oct. 1 through March 31. Well-behaved pets are allowed off-leash at Freeman Park Oct. 1 through Mar. 31. Leashed animals are allowed at the Carolina Beach State Park but not allowed in bathhouses or swimming areas. All waste must be picked up by pet owners. Violations can lead to a $100 fine and citation.

Bonfires — They’re illegal on the beach within the limits of the town but are allowed 35 inches in diameter north of mile marker six in Freeman Park from Nov. 1 through March 31. Small campfires are allowed in Carolina Beach State Park but must be manned at all times.

Camping — Only at Freeman Park and Carolina Beach State Park — not on the beach within town limits. Freeman Park reservations can be made here and state park campground reservations can be made here.

Personal watercrafts — Not within 1,500 feet of the shoreline.

Read more here.

KURE BEACH

Booze — Prohibited at Fort Fisher Recreation Area and Kure Beach.

Smoking — There isn’t an ordinance listed restricting its use.

Tents, canopies, umbrellas, shades, chairs — Yep, but not within 15 feet of the dune line. It’s illegal to leave the gear overnight, 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. No equipment is allowed within 15 feet of the dune line or turtle’s nest, nor within 25 feet of emergency access points.

Glass containers — Never.

Grills, camping stoves, cooking devices — Not within the confines of the Town of Kure Beach, but there are grills available at the Fort Fisher Recreation Area. 

Surf fishing — Go for it! It’s allowed on Kure Beach and Fort Fisher Recreation Area, but you need a saltwater fishing license, awarded to anglers 16 and older through the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s website. 

Driving on the beach — While not allowed on beaches within town limits, south of Kure Beach at Fort Fisher, daily permits are available for $15 on weekdays to $25 on weekends. Four-wheel drive passes are available at the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area from Sept. 15 through March 31. Beach driving access closes 30 minutes before the park does. Visitors should air down tires to 20 psi or lower to avoid getting stuck.

Surfing — Not within 250 feet of the Kure Beach Fishing Pier.

Pets — Dogs are not allowed on the beach between April 1 through Sept. 30. When they are allowed, leashes are required no longer than 15 feet. All waste must be picked up by pet owners. 

Bonfires — Not allowed on the beach in the Town of Kure or at Fort Fisher State Recreation Center.

Camping — Not allowed, nor sleeping on the beach after midnight.

Personal watercrafts — Not within 300 feet of the onshore high-tide mark.

Nudity, thong swimwear — Not allowed.

Other citations and fines can be found here.

TOPSAIL BEACH

Booze — Canned beer and malt beverages are allowed for legal-age drinkers. It’s not permitted near the Surf City Pier or anywhere else a sign is posted.

Tents, canopies, umbrellas, shades, chairs — Yep. But don’t abandon beach gear or the town will confiscate it.

Smoking — There isn’t an ordinance listed restricting its use.

Glass containers — Never.

Grills, camping stoves, cooking devices — Yes. 

Surf fishing — Go for it, but you need a saltwater fishing license, awarded to anglers 16 and older; apply through the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s website. 

Driving on the beach — Yes, but only four-wheel drives (no dune buggies or ATVs) on the southend and for fishing purposes only — no joy riding. It’s allowed from Oct. 1 through Jan. 15. Passes are $50 a week, or $25 season pass for residents and $100 for nonresidents. They’re sold at the Topsail Police Department, (812 S. Anderson Blvd.) to applicants that also show proof of valid driver’s license, vehicle registration, and state-issued fishing license.

Surfing — Yes. 

Pets — Yes, but dogs must be on a leash no longer than 20 feet from May 15 through Sept. 30.  Dogs also must be leashed April 1 through Sept. 30 in the Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS) Unit L07 designated area, marked by the town. All waste must be picked up by pet owners.

Bonfires — Negative, nor firepits. 

Camping — Nope.

Horses and horseback riding —Yes, Oct. 1 through March 31. To bring your horse to the beach, a permit must be obtained by calling the Topsail Beach Police Department (812 S. Anderson Blvd.) at 910-328-4851. 

Learn more here.

NORTH TOPSAIL BEACH

Booze — Hard liquor is not permitted though beer and malt beverages are for legal-age drinkers. All alcohol is prohibited at the town park and county beach accesses.

Tents, canopies, umbrellas, shades, chairs — Yep. Anything left past 9 p.m. will be disposed of. Also, equipment cannot be 20 feet from any sea turtle nest or 10 feet seaward (north and south of a direct line between the sea turtle nest and the Atlantic Ocean). Nor can it be placed 25 feet within emergency or beach strand access points. Penalty is $50.

Smoking — There isn’t an ordinance listed restricting its use.

Glass containers — Never.

Grills, camping stoves, cooking devices — Yes. Small gas grills are allowed, charcoal is not..

Driving on the beach — No, though on the southend of Topsail is allowed for fishing (see Topsail Beach above).

Surfing — Yes

Pets —  Yes, but dogs must be on a leash at all times, no longer than 25 feet (leash law violation is $100). All waste must be picked up by pet owners.

Bonfires — Negative, nor firepits. 

Camping — Nope.

Read all of North Topsail Beach’s ordinances here.

SURF CITY

Booze — Beer and malt beverages are allowed for legal-age drinkers in some areas but not in the alcohol-free zone between Public Beach Access #17 (300 N. Shore Dr.) and  Public Beach Access # 19 (200 S. Shore Dr.),  

Smoking/vaping — Prohibited between Public Beach Access #17 (300 N. Shore Dr.) and Public Beach Access # 19 (200 S. Shore Dr.). There is also no smoking/vaping permitted on public beach accesses or within 20 feet of the public beach access on the street side.

Tents, canopies, umbrellas, shades, chairs — Yep. Anything abandoned will be disposed of after 10 p.m.

Glass containers — Never.

Grills, camping stoves, cooking devices — Portable gas grills are allowed.

Surf fishing — Yes, but refrain from chumming in swimming areas.

Driving on the beach — No vehicles allowed within the corporate limits from Mar. 15r through Oct. 1, except vehicles transporting persons with disabilities. No vehicles shall be allowed on the beach except in the beach area between the 1300 block of South Shore on the south and Dolphin Street on the north. Night driving shall be allowed for fishing purposes only Oct. 1 through March 15, except commercial fishing activities specifically allowed by law shall be permitted.

Surfing — Permitted but not within 300 feet of on either side of any commercial fishing pier from March 15 through Dec. 1

Pets — Yes, but dogs must be leashed at all times. All waste must be picked up by pet owners.

Bonfires — Negative, firepits also prohibited. 

Camping — Nope.

See all other ordinances here.

OAK ISLAND

Booze — Yes, but properly dispose of your trash.

Smoking — There isn’t an ordinance listed restricting its use.

Tents, canopies, umbrellas, shades, chairs — Allowed, but not within 15 feet of emergency vehicle accesses and 10 feet of sea turtle nests. City will pick up abandoned gear at 8:30 p.m. and you won’t be able to retrieve it unless you pay the town $50.

Glass containers — Never.

Grills, camping stoves, cooking devices — Yes.

Surfing — Yes.

Pets — Yes, but all must be leashed in public beach areas from March 16 through Oct. 15. 

Bonfires — Negative, nor firepits. 

Camping — Nope.

Bicycles and scooters — Electric or motorized bicycles and similar vehicles are not allowed on the beach strand or Lockwood Folly Inlet areas (mobility-assistance devices or other official vehicles allowed only if town-approved).

Read all of Oak Island’s ordinances here.


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