We’ve had some recent questions about overnight camping, particularly at the beach. What’s the scoop? Is Gulfport the new best place for van life?
Unfortunately, no matter how you look at it, the answer is no.
First up—the beach is closed every night from midnight to 4:00 AM. This includes the parking lot. While this does not prohibit someone from parking a vehicle there overnight, it would prohibit someone from occupying said vehicle during those hours.
Sec. 17-21. - Hours of operation: All parks are open to the public every day of the year from 4:00 a.m. to midnight. The city council may establish alternative hours of operation for each park or section thereof. All such alternative hours of operation shall be posted at each park to which said hours apply.
Given this, one might logically conclude that it’s okay to park a camper at the beach during all other hours. Sorry but this one doesn’t work either. Gulfport requires a city-issued permit to “place” a recreational vehicle anywhere in the entire city. Except for special events where this ordinance is waived, I can assure you that the city will not issue a permit for public, overnight camping.
Sec. 21-2. - Permit to maintain recreational vehicle; required: It shall be unlawful to place, keep or maintain any recreational vehicle upon any lot or parcel of ground within the city, except in a designated recreational vehicle park, unless such person shall first obtain from the city manager, or his or her designee, a permit to do so. For the purpose of this chapter, recreational vehicle means any structure intended for or capable of human habitation, mounted upon wheels and capable of being moved from place to place, either by its own power or by power supplied by some vehicle attached or to be attached thereto.
So what do we do about it? As with most police response to non-life-safety code violations, we prioritize enforcement based on calls for service. If a small, class-b camper van is taking up one parking space for a day trip to the beach, we will probably leave them alone unless someone calls to complain. On the other hand, that same van would likely get a knock on the door if we find it there, occupied, in the middle of the night. Also, if you decide to park your 36-foot class-a rig across six parking spaces during a special event, you will quickly be asked to move along.
We also have to establish that a vehicle is “capable of human habitation” before we can declare it a violation. I would say that it would have to have a kitchenette, a bed, and a toilet at minimum. If we can’t tell by looking through an open door or windows, we have to assume it’s just a van and not a recreational vehicle.
If you do wish to make a complaint about any suspected violations, please note that Florida law prohibits enforcement based on anonymous tips. Before we can take any official action, we will need your name and address as part of the record.