Waterside Wedding Style

It's hard to beat the beauty of a beach wedding. Here are tips to keep your head above water as you plan your nautical nuptials.
by The Knot

Feel like a fish out of water planning your seaside soiree? From selecting invitations to managing mosquitoes, we've got tips for making your beach wedding a total breeze.

Key Questions to Ask

Have you checked local ordinances and obtained necessary permits? A wedding on the beach can be a blast -- but some prep work and research are required to pull it off without a hitch. Here's a working list of must-ask questions:

  • How many guests are allowed?
  • Can food be served?
  • Can a tent be pitched?
  • Is smoking or alcohol permitted?
  • What about wheelchair access?
  • Are there restrooms for guests? (You may have to rent portable toilets if there are no nearby public restrooms). If not, is there a dressing room in the area?
  • Are electrical outlets available? If not, how can electricity be made available?
  • What are the rules for lighting fires: bonfires, candles, torches, citronella, etc.?
  • Who cleans up the area?
  • Are pets allowed (in case you want your pooch to join in the fun)?
  • What time does the sun set?
  • Is there a time limit? If so, when does the beach close?

Save-the-Date Ideas

Set the mood of your seaside affair six months in advance when you send your save-the-date cards. This way, guests can properly prepare for fun in the sun. Even if you're having a formal wedding, these cards can be casual. Play up the beach theme by filling the envelopes with a pinch of sand and small seashells. Go all out and print the essential info on a beach ball, squirt gun, plastic fish, sun visor, bathing cap, coolie, or water bottle. Or attach the card to a beach bucket, plastic shovel, starfish, mini umbrella, beach bag, sunglasses, lei, or a pair of flip-flops. Love to read? Design your save-the-date to look like a book cover -- the steamy beach reading kind. Decorate your envelopes with beach-scene stamps or stickers.

The Wedding Invitation

For beachside ceremony invitations, avoid using the phrase "request the honor of your presence" which is usually reserved for ceremonies taking place in houses of worship. Instead, say something like: Mr. and Mrs. Smith request the pleasure of your company at the marriage of their children Leigh Elizabeth and John Philip at an oceanside ceremony...Or let your creativity take the helm and compose an original line of your own. For the design, navy blue type and embossed seashell borders or a single letterpress scallop shell at the top add nautical touches.

Ceremony Readings & Rituals

Bring your setting into the ceremony with beach-inspired ideas. For readings, Anne Lindbergh relates relationships to the changing tides in Gift from the Sea, and Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet contains a passage describing love like a moving sea between the shores of your souls. In her book, I Do: A Guide to Creating Your Own Unique Wedding Ceremony, Sydney Barbara Metrick suggests ways to personalize your ceremony by including elements from your surroundings. Consider a symbolic "sand ceremony" where each of you pours a glass of sand into a larger bowl, mixing the sands together to represent a blending or union. To make the ceremony even more personal, write your own wedding vows.

Setting the Scene

Here are some of our favorite beach-theme decorating ideas:

  • Create a walkway made of seashells
  • Place a lifesaver or anchor amidst the buffet
  • Arrange escort cards atop a surfboard or on a tray with tiny paper umbrellas
  • String colorful fish lights or paper lanterns above the reception tables
  • Set out party favors inside colorful inner tubes
  • For a natural setting, use potted herbs, grasses, and wildflowers. For serving tables, use boxes of wheat grass -- a decorating trend we love
  • Arrange flowers in large conch shells or colorful beach pails as centerpieces
  • Conjure up an underwater landscape by combining blue and green florals with neutral-color props such as sand, sea grass, shells, coral, and greens
  • Make a splash by arranging flowers underwater in a large glass bowl or vase
  • Forgo the water altogether and put sand in the bottom of a cylindrical vase, with a large pillar candle in the middle surrounded by small shells or beautiful stones

Playful Photography

Your wedding pictures will be anything but ordinary -- hugging your honey with the sand between your toes, waves crashing in the distance, a sunset backdrop beside the water's edge -- take advantage of the beauty of your natural surroundings. For great candids, loosen up! Kick the sand, throw a Frisbee, turn a cartwheel, or simply stroll hand in hand.

Braving the Elements

Wind, rain, bugs, noise. Just a few things to be aware of before your wedding on the beach. Keep the environment beautiful and your guests happy with these six tips:

  • Beaches are breezy, so keep decorations simple. Be sure flowers are well secured and your aisle runner is weighted down -- think decorative but heavy rocks, sand-filled pails. Or forget the runner and create an aisle using seashells, rocks, or torches. If you want an archway, remember the narrower, the less chance a strong gust will knock it over.
  • You hope your day will be filled with blue skies and balmy breezes, but Mother Nature may have other plans. As a preventative measure, renting a tent is recommended.
  • Light some citronella candles or torches to keep nasty mosquitoes and other fierce flyers at bay. In addition, set out a basket of insect repellent alongside the place card table for guests to use at their leisure.
  • Crashing waves, gusty winds, crying seagulls, vocal beach-goers -- the sounds of the surf can drown out even the most seasoned speakers. Minimize the number of onlookers by having the ceremony early in the morning or around sunset if possible.
  • It's always a bit cooler at the shore, but what if the temperature really drops? On your save-the-date card, include a note that lets guests know to bring a little something warm. Another idea: provide a small throw blanket on each person's chair, maybe as your wedding favor. For a sunset ceremony and if the local ordinances allow it, a bonfire is a romantic way to keep toasty. Of course, you may want to skip the bonfire if children are attending.
  • Many public beaches have patrols that comb the areas to remove debris where it is a problem. Again, make sure to call your local beach authorities for details. If they don't have a removal team, gather up your attendants a few hours before the ceremony for a little prewedding clean up -- just make sure no one gets sunburned in the process.

Contributor: Caye Serling
Resource: Wedding consultant Carolyn Bodner, Highland Park, New Jersey

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