Things That Tick Me Off: Water Billboards

It is time for another addition of “Things That Tick Me Off”– the category that allows me to regain my composure by venting at annoying things in life. (It is far cheaper than therapy). This week’s winner is water billboards. I am in Ocean City, Maryland to speak on the Supreme Court as part of the Maryland State Bar Association‘s annual meeting. The conference is being held at the Clarion Resort on the beach. I arrive last night and took the kids to the beach. It was an amazing scene with huge waves and blue skies. As we took in the beauty, we were suddenly on confronted by a massive water billboard that moves slowly across the beach front, blocking the view and destroying the enjoyment of the beach. I must confess that this is the first time I have seen one of these monstrosities up close and I was appalled.

When we arrived, my youngest, Madie, asked what the “trucks” were doing on the water. She was pointing to huge signs that looked like floating 18-wheeler trucks passing slowly back and forth in front of the beach. BBi Displays is one company operating in the area. They have been destroying the view since at least 2007.

I do not understand why cities do not prohibit such commercial advertising off their beaches. Ocean City has been notorious for runaway development and a lack of city planning. However, one would think that this business directly undermines the beach experience for everyone. It strikes me as just above graffiti as a business enterprise. I have never like the planes dragging banners across beaches, but I understood that there might not be an easy way to deal with such advertisements (though I make a personal note never to do business with any store that uses the planes on beaches). However, at least you can look out on the ocean and ignore the plane. These water billboards block any view but the advertisement as it slowly moves along.

Unlike a plane, these water billboards also disrupt people who are boating and surfing near shore. The problem is that the objection is admittedly aesthetic for the most part. Aesthetic nuisances are often rejected by courts and that would be a question of a takings with a prohibition. However, cities are given a fair degree of leeway in regulating boating near shore. It would be worth a try and I would hope some local lawyers would volunteer to help the effort to rid the community of these obnoxious floating ads.

Cities like Miami now have these things floating constantly around tourists. One company calls it the “Wow” factor. I called the Ugh factor and makes me less likely to come back to that beach.

Obviously there are people who will do anything to make a buck, including destroying a vacation spot. It is an interesting example of Garrett Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons, where everyone crowds the air and water with advertisements — killing the very reason people come to the beach. When you add Ocean City’s lack of city planning and limits on development, the result is a downward spiral — the loss of some great beaches.

33 thoughts on “Things That Tick Me Off: Water Billboards”

  1. There is a famous US Supreme Court “takings case” about liberty interest, or maybe, interplay between liberty interests and property interests. It was back in the late 80s, early 90s. California I believe. Someone who owned a beachfront house put up a fence to keep people from cutting through; but by law the homeowner only owned something like 100 ft of the beach behind the house and didn’t own the “view” of the ocean. And it came out that he couldn’t put up the fence because it denied people on NON-PRIVATE PROPERTY the right to SEE the ocean. I have no time to look for the case now — it was when I was researching the “life interest” concept and was charting the “liberty interests” and “property interests” and their lifespans, etc.

    Somebody help me out with this, I am NAL.

  2. Mark me down for in the “this is new to me” column and the “how utterly revolting” column as well. If I were at the beach and saw one of these, it would guarantee two things: I would never be back to that beach (and its attendant businesses) and I would never give patronage to any venal half-wit willing to advertise in this manner.

  3. Cannot get excited about OC until the sweet corn comes in, but water billboards? ack! so glad my time there had a clear natural view.

    (maybe this is an opportunity for Rehoboth or some other beach who will ban these things.)

  4. I haven’t seen those, here on the West Coast. Maybe because our beaches are public property, by definition? I don’t know how beaches are treated, legally, in the East.

  5. This is also the first time I have heard of this kind of advertising. Sad state of affairs. the best way to get rid of them is to get the tourists riled up about them!

  6. If one of these shows up at our local beach, it’ll end up sunk… Not saying by me, just that it will be sunk.

  7. The billboards are there for target practice for Chris sake. Or is it Dog’s sake?

  8. This is also the first time I’ve heard about this desecration through advertising, though I must admit I’m not surprised. Back in the 60’s and 70’s Ocean City was a pleasant beach town, it’s sad to see what the years have wrought. I wouldn’t go to a beach where this is common practice, but I wonder how it has affected Ocean City tourism?

  9. I had never heard of such a thing. Seems if there is beauty somewhere someone will figure out how to make it ugly and make a buck at the same time.

  10. Seeing such a spectacle but have surely made you feel as if you were wearing plaid bermudas and black socks even if such horrors never occupied your wardrobe. These billboards beyond visual assault, they leap ingrown toenail first into the realm of mental guerilla warfare.

  11. One of those water billboards floated by — it said,


  12. Professor T – Could you pick me up some large fries from Thrasher’s while you’re there? Or maybe a combo platter from Philip’s? Six thirty and I’m craving seafood …

  13. I agree. They would be wiser to let tourists and locals have some peace away from 24/7, incessant, commercial babble.

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