Beach Tags: What Are They Good For? (Absolutely Everything!)
If you’re heading to the shore this weekend, don’t forget that it’s officially beach tag season. Between Memorial Day Friday and Labor Day Monday, beach tags are now required in most towns along the southern Jersey coast, with the exception of Strathmere and Wildwood. But for the rest, you’ll have to pay if you want to play by the sea.
While you may grumble at the thought of having to pay to go to the beach, it’s important to know just what you’re getting for your money. Funds collected from beach tag sales help offset the costs to shore towns to maintain beaches and provide crucial beach-related services and equipment so that you and your family can enjoy a safe, carefree beach experience.
First and most importantly, beach tag fees help provide lifeguards. The fees also offset the costs of equipment necessary for protection and life-saving rescues, such as lifeguard stands, flotation devices, row boats and other equipment.
Second, the fees help support a clean beach. If you’ve ever left the beach on a crowded weekend afternoon, you’ve no doubt witnessed massive amounts of trash and discarded beach chairs and umbrellas piled in and around garbage cans at the beach paths. Imagine if the town didn’t have the resources to remove that trash on a daily basis – our beaches would quickly become impassable and unusable due to sanitation and safety concerns.
Third, beach tag fees help to offset the cost of beach-roaming police patrols. While some responsible drinking adults may scoff at the inconvenience of having to hide their red Solo cup when the patrols wander by, beach patrols provide necessary protection when inebriated or otherwise reckless beach-goers cause unpleasant or dangerous situations. It also allows for quick response and life-saving services when someone suffers heat stroke, a heart attack, is pulled from a rip current or endures other life-threatening conditions. You Tube is replete with videos of police officers having to remove unruly guests or dig people out of collapsed sand tunnels, reminding us that while these patrols may at times harsh your beach mellow, they are crucial to everyone’s safe enjoyment of the beach.
New Jersey is the most prolific beach fee-charging coastal state. In other states, access to the beach is seemingly free but parking is not – and that is one way these states support the costs of beach protection and maintenance. In some areas, parking fees can cost you between $10 – $20 per day, which is generally what you pay to enjoy a week or a full season on a New Jersey beach.
Beach tags first emerged in the 1950s, when the state of New Jersey passed laws allowing fees for use, as long as the revenues were dedicated to beach-related services. While Ocean City, Sea Isle, Avalon, Stone Harbor and Cape May require beach tags, Strathmere and the Wildwoods continue to offer free beaches.
So how do Strathmere and Wildwood offer clean, guarded beaches without charging fees? In addition to resident taxes, Wildwood’s beach costs are supplemented by funds received by the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority. A free beach is a great draw for many visitors, who contribute to the economy through spending at Wildwood’s numerous hotels, restaurants, shops and boardwalk entertainment venues. Wildwood’s expansive beaches are also home to many revenue-producing activities such as sporting events, organization gatherings and festivals. Conversely, Strathmere isn’t typically a major shore destination for visitors and primarily serves residents. Only 7 blocks are covered by lifeguards, so the costs for beach protection and maintenance are not as high as some of the more popular destination beaches.
Throughout the years, the legality of requiring beach tags has been questioned by the legislature and appealed to the courts for ruling. In 2012, legislators introduced a bill to eliminate beach tags in towns receiving government funds for beach replenishment. But many shore towns rallied to defeat the bill, as government funds only cover the cost of replenishment and not daily maintenance. In an effort to deny outsiders access to their beaches, at least one northern Jersey community tried to restrict beach tag sales to residents only, but this was struck down by the courts. While all beaches are open to the public in South Jersey, in other areas of the state some coastal communities have actively tried to keep out non-residents by drastically limiting public parking, prohibiting food on the beach and failing to provide public restrooms. Other areas have allowed owners to block off their beach-front property in order to keep trespassers away, thereby privatizing the beach. Fortunately, these practices are forbidden in South Jersey.
A major argument at the heart of beach access litigation is whether charging a beach fee violates the Public Trust Doctrine. This doctrine assures public access to certain waterways and beaches which, under common law, are held in trust by the State of New Jersey for the use and enjoyment of the public. The doctrine establishes people’s legal rights to access and use oceanfront property for recreation, navigation and fishing. Common law means that it hasn’t been codified by legislation but is a centuries old practice, with the Public Trust concept dating back to the Roman Empire.
In order to clarify the doctrine, New Jersey’s governor Phil Murphy signed a bill earlier this month to codify the doctrine and make it a law. The bill attempts to strengthen public access to the waterfront while balancing the rights and concerns of private resident, governmental and industrial property owners. The bill also provides Department of Environmental Protection rules and regulations related to applications for permits and other approvals for marina properties to ensure that public access to the waterfront and beaches is not diminished. This new law will prohibit the exclusivity activities that are problematic in the northern towns to ensure that everyone has access to the beaches, with the exception of infrastructure sites such as chemical plants or gas facilities where homeland security could be at stake if unfettered public access was permitted. The law, however, is silent on whether shore towns can charge fees in the form of beach tags – while the newly codified doctrine guarantees the right of public access, it does not mandate free public access.
Just how much money does beach tag revenue generate? Avalon and Sea Isle in recent years reported that fees generated over $1 million in revenue. While this money does not cover the entire costs of maintaining and protecting the beaches, it certainly goes a long way in offsetting the costs. Without this income, residents of the shore towns would have to foot the bill by paying additional taxes.
Requiring beach tags not only spreads out the costs to everyone who uses the beach and its amenities, but also requires all users to share in the responsibility for its continued safety and cleanliness. Seasonal beach tags along the southern Jersey coast range in cost from $25 to $28, depending upon the town. If you were to determine the cost per day of a seasonal tag for the 101 days between Memorial Day Friday and Labor Day Monday, the cost per day is average of 26 cents per day. While not everyone will use their seasonal tag every day of the summer, a seasonal tag gives you the right to access the beach on any day. For an average of 26 cents per any day of use, you’re getting the peace of mind that a clean, protected beach brings you. When put this way, it tends to take away some of the sting of paying for beach access.
With a little pre-planning, you can save money on beach tag fees. Most towns offer discounted seasonal tags if purchased prior to Memorial Day weekend. Towns like Sea Isle and Avalon offer holiday-themed beach tags, which make for great gifts and can spread out some of your summer vacation costs. Some vacation homeowners and realtor offices offer beach tags free to their renters. And if you really balk at the idea of paying to go to the beach, plan to go before 10:00 am or after 5:00 pm – in all towns, beach tags are only required during lifeguard hours. However, if you choose to do this, you need to realize that you’re swimming at your own risk and you should exercise extreme caution. Dangerous water conditions like rip currents can develop quickly and without warning or signs. Without a lifeguard present, you may be risking the lives of you and your children so maybe it’s better to stay out of the water – it may be a wise trade-off for having a free beach experience.
Here is everything you’ll need to know about each town’s beach tag policies.
Who needs beach tags: Beach Tags are required for all beachgoers ages 12 and older.
When do you need them: Beach tags are required between June 1 – September 2, 2019.
Where do you buy beach tags: Beach tags may be purchased at the following locations:
City Hall: Monday – Friday, 9:00 am – 6:00 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm.
Rt. 52 Welcome Center: Monday – Saturday, 9:00 am – 4:30 pm; Sunday, 9:00 am – 2:00 pm.
Henry Knight Building (12th Street and Haven Avenue): Monday – Friday 9:00 am – 4:00 pm
Aquatic & Fitness Center (17th Street and Simpson Avenue): Monday – Friday 5:00 am – 9:00 pm; Saturday 7:00 am – 6:00 pm; Sunday 9:00 am – 6:00 pm
46th Street Welcome Center (4500 block of West Avenue): Monday – Friday 9:00 am – 4:00 pm
Music Pier Welcome Center (Boardwalk between 8th Street and 9th Street): Saturday – Sunday, 9:30 am – 4:30 pm.
(Veteran/military tags are available at: City Hall, Route 52 Welcome Center, 46th Street Welcome Center and the Music Pier Welcome Center).
How much do they cost:
Seasonal tags – $25
Weekly tags – $10
Daily tags – $5
Veterans/Active Military Duty – Free seasonal tags are available to veterans and active military members with proper military identification. Veterans receive free tags themselves, but the spouses and immediate children (age 22 and younger) of active military members are also eligible to receive free tags
What else you need to know: Ocean City warns that use of counterfeit or forged beach tags is considered a third-degree crime and will be prosecuted.
Sea Isle City/Townsends Inlet
Who needs beach tags: Beach Tags are required for everyone 12 years and older.
When do you need them: Beach tags are required between the hours of 9:00 am – 5:00 pm, from Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day 2019 with the exception of Wednesdays, when beach tags are not required.
Where do you buy beach tags: You may purchase Sea Isle beach tags in one of two locations listed below, or from Beach Tag Inspectors stationed at beach entrances or walking on the beach. Also, seasonal beach tags are available for purchase through the Viply mobile app, available on both Apple and Android devices. Download the app, order tags and pick them up from any beach tag inspector or at one of the sales locations. You must have your phone with the app open to retrieve your tags. Note that there is a small service fee applied to Viply transactions. To download the app, go to www.viplypass.com/sea-isle-city/.
Beach tags can be purchased in person at:
City Hall’s Tax Office, 233 JFK Boulevard, 2nd Floor, Room #204 (Monday – Friday, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm, except holidays)(there is also a 24 hour Beach Tag Vending Machine located in the lobby of City Hall, accessible 24 hours a day/7 days a week, from which you can purchase seasonal tags. Note that the machine accepts cash only and does not make change).
Welcome Center, 300 John F. Kennedy Boulevard (Monday to Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and Saturdays, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. – cash or checks only.)
How much do they cost:
Seasonal tags – $25
Weekly tags – $10
Daily tags – $5
Veterans/Active Military Duty – Beach tags are free for qualifying active military personnel and veterans of the following branches of service: United States Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, as well as members of the United States Coast Guard and the New Jersey National Guard. These tags are only available at the Beach Tag Office in City Hall.
What else you need to know: Wednesdays are FREE – no beach tags required!
Who needs beach tags: Beach tags are required for all individuals 12 years or older.
When do you need them: You will need a beach tag if visiting the beach between the hours of 10:00am until 5:00pm between May 25th through September 2nd, 2019.
Where to buy beach tags: Avalon beach tags can be purchased at the Beach Tag Booth at Community Hall on 30th Street and Avalon Avenue between the hours of 10:00 am – 4:00 pm. They can also be purchased on the beach or at a beach entrance from any on-duty Avalon Beach Patrol Tag Inspector. Additionally, Avalon now offers beach tag sales through the Viply mobile app, available on both Apple and Android devices. Download the app, order tags and pick them up from any beach tag inspector or at Avalon Beach Tag Booth located at 30th Street and Avalon Avenue. You must have your phone with the app open to retrieve your tags. Note that there is a small service fee applied to Viply transactions. To download the app, go to www.viplypass.com/avalon-beach-tags/.
How much do they cost:
Seasonal tag – $28 Season
Weekly tag – $12 Weekly
Daily Tag – $6 Daily
Veterans/Active Military Duty – Avalon proudly offers free seasonal beach tags to all veterans of the United States Armed Forces. Active duty military members and their immediately families also may enjoy the beaches without a beach tag.
What else you need to know: Avalon beach tags are honored for access to Stone Harbor beaches, and Stone Harbor beach tags are honored for access to Avalon beaches.
Who needs beach tags: All persons 12 and over.
When do you need them: During the hours of 10:00 am – 5:00 pm, between the Friday of Memorial weekend to Monday of Labor Day weekend, 2019.
Where do you buy beach tags: Stone Harbor beach tags can be purchased at the Stone Harbor Beach Tag Office on 95th Street and the Beach from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm daily or from a beach tag inspector on the beach.
How much do they cost:
Seasonal tags – $28
Weekly tags – $12
Daily tags – $6 daily
Veterans/Active Military Duty – Veterans will be issued a specialized veterans tag, free to Veterans and Active Duty Military and families. These must be picked up at the Stone Harbor Beach Tag Office along with required documentation.
What else you need to know: Stone Harbor beach tags are honored for access to Avalon beaches, and Avalon beach tags are honored for access to Stone Harbor beaches.
Who needs beach tags: All persons age 12 and older.
When do you need them: During the hours of 10:00 am – 5:30 pm, between Memorial Day weekend – Labor Day, 2019.
Where do you buy beach tags: Beach tags are available at the Beach Tag Office and at all beach entrances during the summer. The City accepts cash or checks only, and rates are per person.
How much do they cost:
Seasonal tag – $28
Weekly tag – $18
3-day tag (any three consecutive days) – $12
Daily tag – $6
Veterans/Active Military Duty – Beach tags are free for Veterans who have served and were released through Honorable Discharge with at least 90-days active duty or released from active duty by reason of a service-incurred injury or disability. Beach tags are free for Active Duty Military personnel, as well as their spouses/civil union partners and dependent children twelve (12) years of age and older. Qualifying Active Military personnel must be present at the time of request and proper identification (military ID) must be presented.
The best thing about beach tags is that after the season is done, they make great collector’s items!