Beach Umbrella Bill Gets New Life in NJ Legislature

Beach Umbrella Bill Gets New Life in NJ Legislature

By:  Eric Englund
The Sand Paper

A new bill in the New Jersey Legislature sets fines for beachgoers who don’t properly secure beach umbrellas and vendors who fail to warn the public about the risks of their use.

The bill was introduced late last month by Monmouth County Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling. It prohibits opening a beach umbrella at a public beach during wind speeds of 25 mph or greater unless it is secured to the ground using an auger, sandbag or another anchoring device.

Any violators could be subject to a civic penalty of $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second, and $250 for the third or subsequent offense. The government entity with jurisdiction over the public beach would be responsible for collecting the fines and enforcing the penalty.

The legislation also requires retailers that sell beach umbrellas to post a sign informing consumers of the risks associated with the device. Violators would be subject to a $500 fine.

“I go to the beach fairly regularly, and my wife is in charge of putting the umbrella down securely into the sand,” he said in the release announcing the bill. “It’s a simple thing to do, but a lot of people don’t want to be bothered with it. The weather at the beach is so unpredictable that the wind can kick up at any time, and you can have 20 umbrellas flying all over the place.”

The bill is similar to one that was introduced last summer by Bergen County Assemblyman Clinton Calabrese.

“That bill didn’t make it to a vote last year, and when that happens, it has to be reintroduced in the new year and again go through the committee process,” said Charlie Schliep, a legislative staffer to Houghtaling.

A statement attached to the bill reads, ”Beach umbrellas provide beachgoers the benefit of shade on hot and sunny days. However, a beach umbrella that is not properly secured to the ground can be dislodged and blown by the wind, posing a threat to the safety of those nearby. Over the last several years, news reports have detailed horrific injuries, and at least one death, resulting from beach umbrellas. In 2018, a beach umbrella came loose in Seaside Heights, New Jersey and impaled a visitor in the ankle. In 2015, a man lost the use of his eye after a beach umbrella dislodged and struck him in Bethany Beach, Delaware. In 2016, a woman in Virginia Beach, Virginia was killed when a gust of wind launched a beach umbrella into the air, striking her in the torso. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has stated that between 2008 and 2017, more than 31,000 people have sought treatment at a hospital due to an umbrella-caused injury. The most effective way to ensure that a beach umbrella does not dislodge in the wind is to secure the umbrella using an auger, sandbag, or other anchoring device. ”

Surf City Councilman Pete Hartney, who chairs the borough beach fees/beach protection committee, has written a letter to the 9th District legislative team – Sen. Christopher J. Connors and Assembly members DiAnne C. Gove and Brian E. Rumpf – in opposition to the bill. While Hartney said he endorses Houghtaling’s efforts to “keep visitors to New Jersey’s beautiful beaches safe,” he said the bill raises enforcement issues.

Saying the bill is “punitive in substance and intent,” Hartney asks, “The question remains, though, how is Surf City, as the government entity in control of the beaches in the borough, supposed to implement just and equitable enforcement with the thousands of beachgoers who enjoy the beaches in Surf City? How deep is deep enough to anchor an umbrella? How many bags of sand should an umbrella have for it to be considered secure? How will enforcement be accomplished while preserving the protections offered beachgoers by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States?”

He said if signed into the law, it would create an unfunded mandate for local municipalities as towns would have to bear the costs of enforcement, adjudication of complains and signage.

Hartney said the issue would be more effectively addressed through public service announcements and campaigns regarding the dangers of untethered beach umbrellas. These PSAs could be coordinated by the Department of Consumer Affairs or other agencies.

“This would have a wider reach than legislation,” he said. “We should be prescriptive, rather than punitive and proscriptive.”

In addition, Hartney wishes the state Legislature would pass a resolution supporting the efforts of U.S. Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez (both D-N.J.), along with their colleagues in Virginia, in their quest to have the issue addressed through consumer product safety.

Keith Stokes, Ship Bottom Beach Patrol chief, agreed enforcement could be problematic, noting that lifeguards “keep their eyes on the ocean, not on umbrellas.”

“As a precaution, we have made sure that the umbrellas used by lifeguards and beach checkers are anchored very securely,” he said.

Stokes said that on windy days, lifeguards could talk to beachgoers about the importance of keeping umbrellas secured.

“It’s a matter of common sense,” he said. “I would hope that people using our beaches would want to take those measures.”