When it’s nice outside, a trip to the beach seems to be a great idea. You get to kick off your shoes, strip down to your bathing suit, and float around in the water. Unfortunately, about 10 people die every day from unintentional drownings.
A day at the beach should be fun, not full of worry and anxiety. If you want to enjoy the sun, water, and sand, pay attention to the following beach safety tips.
Understand the potential dangers of the beach
It’s hard to remain safe when you don’t know what to look out for. Before packing for the beach, you should learn more about the potential dangers. The most pressing issues include:
- Rip currents
- Jellyfish stings
- Heat stroke
Sharks are one of my greatest fears. As soon as I start to dip my toes into the ocean, I picture jaws coming for me. It turns out that I should be more afraid of mother nature and sharks should be more afraid of us.
While the data is a few years old, a 2011 report revealed that around 100 million sharks are killed by humans each year. That same year, there were only 12 human fatalities linked to shark attacks.
Instead of worrying about sharks, I should be worried about protecting myself against the sun, strong currents, and jellyfish.
Everyone in your party should know how to swim
Knowing how to swim is your first line of defense against drowning. Don’t be embarrassed if you haven’t had the chance to learn. Many of us don’t grow up around pools or beaches.
The American Red Cross estimates that about half of Americans can’t swim. Luckily, there are swimming classes available in most regions. Your local Red Cross, YMCA, or community center may offer classes throughout the year.
Children also need to know how to swim before being allowed to swim in the open waters. Children 14 and under account for one in five drowning deaths in the US each year.
Sign your children up for a swim class if they haven’t yet learned how to swim. You could even make it a family event and learn together.
Children and teens should also wear life jackets when swimming, boating, tubing, or skiing. The Red Cross also recommends that children up to five years old wear life jackets any time that they are near the water.
If someone in your group does not know how to swim, he or she should stick to the sand.
Learn how to spot a rip current forming on the shore
Rip currents are the biggest threat on the beach. In fact, over 80% of lifeguard rescues involve a rip current. These currents come quickly and unexpectedly and can easily pull experienced swimmers out to sea.
What is a rip current? It’s a strong stream of water that quickly flows away from the shoreline. If you are swimming near this current, it may pull you out into the ocean at incredible speeds.
A rip current can pull swimmers at speeds of close to 10 feet per second. For a comparison, gold-medal swimmer Michael Phelps can reach speeds of 8.8 feet per second. The average swimmer can only reach about five feet per second.
One of the best ways of spotting a rip current is to check the beach forecast. Meteorologists offer accurate predictions about the weather conditions on the beach, including the risk of a rip current forming. You can also ask the lifeguards about the weather conditions when you arrive at the beach.
It’s also possible to learn how to spot a rip current forming. Typically, waves crash at an angle to the shoreline. The water then flows back to the ocean as a longshore current.
When the waves crash perpendicular to the shoreline, the longshore current goes right and left along the shore. When two of these longshore currents collide, the colliding currents form a powerful rip current.
Just before the longshore currents crash together, you may see a small gap between the waves. This is a common cue that you need to get out the water or prepare for a rip current.
How to swim out of a rip current
If you’re in the water when the rip current hits, don’t try to swim back to the shore. As mentioned, the current can reach speeds that you and I will never match.
I’ve watched a lot of television shows and movies where swimmers get pulled under the water by these rip currents. It turns out that these scenes are complete fiction. The current does not pull you under. It pulls you out to sea.
If you can wade in the water, you should not need to worry about drowning. I know that it’s easier said than done but you need to avoid panicking.
Instead of fighting the current, you need to swim parallel to the shore. If you keep swimming, you should eventually get out of the path of the current.
If you’re not a great swimmer, you should signal for help as soon as possible. Wave your arms and call out for help. Again, the current shouldn’t pull you under. You just need to wade in the water and stay afloat until help can arrive.
Learn the correct way to deal with jellyfish stings
Another common danger in the ocean is jellyfish. There is an old myth that you can urinate on a jellyfish sting to neutralize the sting. This remedy is gross and wrong.
If you get stung by a jellyfish, get out of the water. It seems like a reasonable first step but it’s easy to panic in these situations.
The next step is to rinse the area where you were stung with vinegar. Urine will not work nor will baking soda, alcohol, or rinsing with fresh water. If you don’t have vinegar, you may need to visit a doctor or try rinsing the area with hot water.
You should then use a pair of tweezers to remove the tentacles. After removing the tentacles, hop in the shower and soak the affected area with hot water for at least 20 to 45 minutes. You can then apply a hydrocortisone cream or antihistamine to relieve the itching or swelling.
If you have a severe reaction, do not hesitate to visit the hospital. You may need an antivenin to treat the sting.
Protect your skin and your body from the sun and heat
Heat stroke and sunburn are also potential dangers when spending the day on the beach. With the sun shining on your body, you may get easily dehydrated and burnt to a crisp without proper precautions.
The FDA recommends that beach-goers wear sunscreen with an SPF rating of at least 30. You don’t need to spend money on the expensive sunscreen that promises to offer SPF 100 protection. In fact, the FDA claims that SPF 45 is about the best protection you can get.
SPF 30 sunscreen blocks 97% of all UVB rays while SPF 45 blocks 98%. You can’t really get much more protection than that. The FDA even wants to prohibit companies from labeling sunscreen as containing anything more than SPF 50.
Whether you choose SPF 30 or 45, you should reapply every two to three hours. You should also reapply after getting out of the water as there is no such thing as waterproof sunscreen. At best, the “waterproof” sunscreens are more water-resistant.
You also need to stay hydrated. No, you can’t drink the salt water. Bring a water bottle with you and rehydrate whenever you feel fatigued, get confused, or start to develop a headache.
Learn the basic technique for performing CPR
Learning CPR may be the difference between life and death. Along with swim classes, you may find CPR classes at your local YMCA or a community center.
Even if you don’t know CPR, the American Heart Association recommends that you attempt chest compressions when someone is having difficulty breathing. They suggest that you avoid rescue breathing and stick with the chest compressions until paramedics arrive.
Swim on beaches where lifeguards are present
The last tip for staying safe on the beach is to swim in areas where a lifeguard is posted. Studies show that the risk of drowning when visiting a beach that is monitored by a lifeguard is one in 18 million.
The United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) is a non-profit organization that certifies lifeguards in the US. Before visiting a beach, find out when lifeguards are on duty. When you get to the beach, remember to check in with the lifeguard to ask about the current weather conditions for safe swimming.
These basic safety tips should help you feel more secure during your next trip to the beach. While you don’t need to be overly cautious and take all the fun out of your day at the beach, you should take a few precautions.
Remember to learn how to swim before you decide to go swimming and keep children in life jackets. You should also watch out for rip currents and make sure that your skin is protected against the sun.
Good luck out there and don’t forget that sharks have more reason to fear you.
Megan Jones is the lead author of Seaside Planet. She is an avid surfer, scuba diver, and travel enthusiast who takes any opportunity she can to spend time in the ocean. You can learn more about Meg and the rest of the editorial team here.