Are All Beaches Free And Open To The Public?

There’s nothing quite like lazing around on the beach with the fresh ocean breeze running through your hair. Whether you are a tourist, a surfer, or a resident, not being allowed on the beach is disappointing. When planning which beach to visit, you might wonder, are all beaches free and open to the public?

All beaches are available to the public as lateral access, although some are not easily accessible to everyone. While most beaches are free, some beaches ask for a small fee to compensate lifeguards and maintain and clean the beach to benefit the public.

The ocean provides us with calm and spiritual peacefulness that all deserve to experience. Spending time at the beach has immense emotional health benefits and is an integrated part of many cultures. Therefore, access to the beach should be a fundamental human right, but is it?

Are All Beaches Free And Available To The Public?

According to the Public Trust Doctrine, everyone has the right to access the beaches and waterways of the world. While the trust doctrine was instated initially to ensure public access to vital fishing, it has since been adjusted to accommodate beach access for recreational purposes.

The people have a right to lateral access, which refers to the strip of land that runs parallel to the waves, between the low tide and the mean high tide line (MHTL). In essence, lateral access would allow anyone to walk along the entire coast of a given country. To ensure public access, the government or ruling body of the country owns this part of the beach

In most countries, the beaches are free of charge to the public. However, there are countries where specific beaches are not free.

In the USA, particularly in New Jersey, you need a beach tag to enter the beach. Other beaches form part of a nature reserve that has an entry fee. While the entry fee is for the park and not specifically the beach, it still puts a price tag on the beach.

While the beaches are available at no cost in some parts of the world, parking is not always free. You can usually avoid the parking fees by walking or taking public transport to the beach, or parking further away. Of course, this can be unpractical if you have beach umbrellas, coolers, and other beach accessories to carry. It also doesn’t make the beach cost-free for those in wheelchairs.

Although the beach is available to the public, sometimes it is closed off from the public to protect the environment for future generations. An excellent example of such restriction is the closing of Maya Bay in Thailand, made famous by the movie The Beach. After years of no access, the ecosystem recovered, and the beach could be re-opened to the public.

Why Do You Need To Pay To Enter Some Beaches?

If the public has the right to access the beaches of the world, and most beaches are cost-free to the public, why do some beaches have entry fees?

While this may seem like discrimination at first glance, there are often good reasons to instate fees. Beaches need to be kept clean. Popular beaches usually hire lifeguards to keep the public safe.

Local councils and municipalities are responsible for maintaining the beach, but sometimes their funding is not enough to cover the costs. Asking the public for a small fee helps offset the costs of maintaining the beach and is for the benefit of the people.

As mentioned, some beaches form part of national parks or nature reserves, and they use the entry fees to pay their staff and maintain the park so that it remains beautiful for the public to enjoy.

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Are Public Beaches Under Threat?

Lateral access may be a fundamental human right, but it is often under attack and not equally available to everyone as with many other human rights. Unfortunately, there are several threats to the public’s right to the beach.

While no one can own the land between the low and high tide lines, the property above the high tide line is often privately owned. However, since this part of the coast, known as perpendicular access, is the only form of access to the beach from the land, it can make the beach inaccessible to the general public.

Most countries have laws to grant the public access to the beach via pathways or roads through private land. In North America, this law is called the Customary Use Doctrine. Unfortunately, this does not stop some hotel and beachfront homeowners from trying to restrict public access.

Private landowners will often go to extremes to keep their beach “private” and block access to the beach using obstacles:

  • Physical barriers such as rubbish piles, bushes, or fences.
  • “Private Property” signs and other misleading signage.
  • Gates, often ones that look like someone’s garden gate.
  • Hiring security to keep people off the beach.

Apart from private landowners and beachfront hotels, big mining companies also make it difficult for people to enjoy the coast. Valuable gemstones can be found along the coast, and when mining companies gain permission to extract them, they restrict access to the roads that lead to the beach and hire staff to keep the public away.

Illegal obstructions such as those mentioned above violate fundamental human rights and should be protested and fought by the public.

What Should You Do When You Are Denied Access To The Beach?

It can be nerve-wracking to find yourself on the beach, confronted by a security guard and ordered to turn around and leave the beach. How do you approach the situation without putting yourself in harm’s way?

When confronted by private security guards or aggressive landowners, it is best to leave the beach to avoid conflict. Even when you know the beach is public, and you have the right of access, the landowners likely know this too and do not care. Confronting them will aggravate the situation.

The most effective strategy for solving the dispute is to lay a formal complaint at the local council. Reaching out to your local community will bring the situation to public attention. Very often, people remain silent, and the problem continues.


If you plan to visit a new or unfamiliar beach and are unsure of the fees or accessibility, it is best to contact the local council. Being informed about the laws and regulations will put your mind at ease and avoid disappointment.

The world’s beaches are available to the public, and it is crucial to keep them so for our children and future generations. Unfortunately, wealthy landowners and private companies threaten the public’s ability to reach many beaches. Without public interference, we might lose some of the most pristine beaches.