MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - Its shortly after 8 a.m., and lifeguard Michael Patterson already has been busy on what could be called tent patrol.
Along this stretch of beach by Ocean Lakes Family Campground, its one of the busiest tent-pitching times of the day, as beach-goers know to get there early to snag a spot. That leaves Patterson busy making sure the tents are set up to adhere to 1-year-old rules crafted to ensure that emergency folks can maneuver around all the colorful canopies.
A lot of people are really understanding about it, Patterson said. They are handling it pretty well.
This is the second summer that beach-goers have had to follow rules for tents along the Grand Strand, and officials say the rules are working well, though they are still educating beach-goers on the particulars.
The new rules aim to create enough space around the tents so that rescue workers and vehicles can get to emergencies without being blocked by the tents, an issue that emerged two years ago as the tents popularity soared and the canopies nearly blanketed some parts of the beaches.
Beachgoers cant use tents larger than 12 feet by 12 feet, must set them up on the land side of the lifeguards umbrella line and be at least 10 feet away from another tent. They must secure them with lines that dont stick out from the tents borders. Tents cant go up before 8 a.m. and must be down by 7 p.m. Myrtle Beach recently clarified its rules so they match the tent rules in Horry County and North Myrtle Beach.
Some tent users said this week that they didnt mind the rules as long as officials dont ban tents altogether, which some had initially considered but regulated them instead.
Its really worked out to be a more orderly beach and hasnt infringed on anybodys fun, North Myrtle Beach spokesman Pat Dowling said.
Bobby Blackburn and Tim Austin were among the beachgoers out early Wednesday setting up their tent for the day. But before the tent was firmly in the sand, a lifeguard told them thatd have to move back a few feet so they werent within 10 feet of a nearby umbrella. In a matter of seconds, the pair had lifted the tent and scooted it back. Now on with their beach day.
Its very easy to move, Blackburn said, adding that he likes using a tent to catch a break from the sun. Its what saves you [from the sun] when you come to the beach.
Nearby, Todd and Tracy Bowers of North Carolina already were lounging under their new tent early Wednesday. A day earlier, they had noticed lifeguards telling tent users to move, so they made sure they were in line before setting up. They dont mind the rules as long as officials dont ban them; the tent allows Todd Bowers who isnt a sun person to still spend time with his family on the beach, he said.
I dont have a problem with rules as long as I know what they are, Todd Bowers said. I understand there has to be some guidelines.
But Earl Huggins, who owns Huggins Beach Service, said the rules dont go far enough, adding that his crews still have problems getting around tents in crowded sections of the beach. He suggested banning large tents in very congested areas, though he admits he doesnt think officials are willing to go that far.
It appears to be a mess still, said Huggins, who provides beach service in Myrtle Beach. They take up so much space...We dont have enough beach to have all these tents. Its still hard to weave through, even with a golf cart.
The rules have made it better in unincorporated sections of Horry County, including at crowded areas such as those by the oceanfront campgrounds, said George Lack of Lacks Beach Service, which works those areas.
They are actually going very well, he said. Theres just so precious little beach and we are blessed with so many people. Hopefully the popularity of these things will wane.
Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach officials said they havent issued any tickets over tents. Some tent users do resist moving, especially if theyre already set up, Patterson said. But in the end they are, Alright, we will move, he said.
James Helms of Virginia rolled off the rules as he set up his tent early Wednesday near Ocean Lakes, which has copies of the rules at the check-in desk and on activities lists.
I think it is smart, he said. Ive seen the lifeguards be proactive in enforcing this. Nice to see safety is paramount.