Preventing Beach Blanket Theft: What Works And What Doesn’t

The beach isn’t the safest place to be, and vacationers need to take precautions against theft. Think it doesn’t happen? Think again.

By Aleksei Potov /

According to the Panama City News Herald, already this year, a duo was arrested for stealing items out of cars. So make sure you lock your vehicles and keep all valuables out of sight when you go down to the beach — you never know when someone’s going to commit a crime of opportunity. 

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Michael Marsh, 50, left his belongings to swim, and found them missing when he returned — two hours later, he also found $277 on his American Express card. Police said, “Petty criminals … typically lurk at the beaches this time of year, searching for unattended bags and belongings left on the sand, including on Clearwater Beach, where dozens of thefts have been reported so far this summer.”

Smartphones were commonly stolen items as well. In one theft reported in 2013, “two bags containing cell phones, car keys, credit cards and a gold watch and earrings were snatched near a lifeguard tower. No one saw the suspect.”

[Check out our Security Tips For The Beach.]

So don’t think that being near a lifeguard tower will help you or deter a thief. Relying on that is likely to get you into trouble. 

So are crackpot tips like this one from British tabloid The Sun. They recommend you cut open a shampoo bottle (why shampoo? Who brings shampoo to the beach?), leaving enough room to slide your valuables inside while the bottle appears intact. This will not help you if you forget to leave that expensive smartphone in your unlockable, obtrusive shampoo safe.

Other less helpful tips abound. Some sites recommend that people leave their valuables with other travelers (women first, generally followed by families and then men). Do you really want to trust some random person you’ve never met in your life with your gear?

The New York Times did a brief essay on the subject in 2016, and came up with a whole lot of very bad advice. There were several variations of putting your stuff in a plastic bag, burying it, and putting a towel over the spot. One woman recommended wrapping your valuables in a clean diaper “that looked dirty.” Another said you should ball your stuff up in a shirt so when the thief comes to grab stuff, he takes your bag instead! It’s not that none of these ideas could ever work, but if you’re taking a long walk on the beach and leaving your stuff alone, a balled-up shirt probably isn’t going to repel many thieves.

The suggestion to buy travel insurance is a good one. However, that doesn’t help you when you’re marooned without credit cards, a phone, or whatever else you left sitting out on the beach.  

And this stuff happens in the blink of an eye. On April 10, 2013 on Facebook, the Clearwater, FL police department detailed its first beach blanket theft of that year. “A woman left her wallet and phone on a beach chair under an umbrella for just a few minutes to go check on her children. When she came back they were gone. Remember, these are crimes of opportunity. Don’t leave your valuables unattended on the beach or there’s a good chance they will disappear.”

You can’t rely on other people to help you, either. In something called the “Beach Blanket Experiment”, a thief on a crowded beach runs by and snatches something off a blanket while its owner is gone. In the original experiment, according to ABC, “one out of five people intervened if the victim had made no previous exchanges with his neighbors.” However, 95 percent of people spoke up if they had been asked to watch the person’s stuff. So if you are going to walk away, don’t be afraid to ask someone to watch your stuff. (But that leads to another question: do you trust this stranger?)

Go to the beach like the people from Rio do: with your sunblock and your towel (they use a cotton sarong, but the point stands). If you take anything else, use either a waterproof case or bag you can take swimming with you, or a beach safe. Anything else, and you leave yourself open to theft. 

Elizabeth Broadbent

Elizabeth Broadbent

Elizabeth Broadbent lives in a medium-sized city in the South with her three children, three dogs, and patient husband. She works as a staff writer for Scary Mommy, and her writing has been featured in The Washington Post and on

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