Safety tips for your visit to the beach
July 30, 2008
The lazy, hazy days of summer are here and many of us are heading to the beach for fun and sun. The American Red Cross and the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) would like everyone to enjoy their time by offering tips for both ocean and beach safety.
Use common sense and watch out for the dangerous “too’s.” Make sure you don’t become too tired or too cold. Don’t go too far from safety, get too much sun or engage in too much strenuous activity.
In the ocean:
- Most important – learn to swim, and learn how to swim in the surf. It’s not the same as swimming in a pool or lake. To stay safe, both adults and children should know how to swim. The Red Cross has developed swimming courses for people of any age and swimming ability. Contact your local Red Cross chapter to find out which aquatic facilities in your area offer Red Cross swimming lessons.
- Stay within the designated swimming area, and swim only at a lifeguard protected beach.
- Never swim alone.
- Be cautious at all times and check local weather conditions. If in doubt, don’t go out.
- Swim sober. Water and alcohol don’t mix. Alcohol impairs your judgment, balance and coordination; you need all three to be safe in, on and around the water.
- Leash your surfboard or bodyboard to your ankle or wrist. With a leash, the user will not become separated from the floatation device. You can consider a breakaway leash. A few drownings have been attributed to leashes becoming entangled in underwater obstructions. A breakaway leash avoids this problem.
- Don’t float where you can’t swim. Nonswimmers should not use floatation devices to go offshore. If they fall off, they can quickly drown. No one should use a floatation device unless they are able to swim. Use of a leash is not enough because a non-swimmer may panic and be unable to swim back to the floatation device, even with a leash. The only exception is a person wearing a Coast Guard approved life jacket.
- Don’t dive headfirst, protect your neck. Serious, lifelong injuries, including paraplegia, as well as death, occur every year due to diving headfirst into unknown water and striking the bottom. Bodysurfing can result in a serious neck injury when the swimmer's neck strikes the bottom. Check for depth and obstructions before diving, go in feet first the first time; and use caution while bodysurfing, extending a hand ahead of you.
- Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards. Ask a lifeguard about surf conditions before entering the water.
- Stay at least 100 feet away from piers and jetties. Permanent rip currents often exist near these structures.
- Pay especially close attention to children and elderly persons when at the beach. Even in shallow water, wave action can cause a loss of footing.
- Keep a lookout for aquatic life. Water plants and animals may be dangerous. Avoid patches of plants. Leave animals alone.
- Make sure you always have enough energy to swim back to shore.
Rip currents, according to the USLA, are responsible for over 100 deaths on our nation’s beaches every year, and for over 80 percent of rescues performed by surf beach lifeguards.
Rip currents appear as a channel of churning, choppy water, an area having a notable difference in water color, a line of foam, seaweed, or debris moving steadily seaward and a break in the incoming wave pattern. None, one, or more of the above clues may indicate the presence of rip currents. Rip currents are often not readily or easily identifiable to the average beachgoer. For your safety, be aware of this major surf zone hazard.
The greatest safety precaution you can take is to know the danger of rip currents, and always swim at beaches with lifeguards. If you are caught in a rip current, remember the following:
- Remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
- Never fight against the current.
- Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim at an angle--away from the current--towards shore.
- If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water. When out of the current, swim towards shore.
- If you are still unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself by waving your arm and yelling for help.
If you see someone in trouble, get help from a lifeguard. If a lifeguard is not available, have someone call 9-1-1. Throw the victim something that floats – a lifejacket, cooler, inflatable ball. Yell instructions on how to escape the current. Remember, many people drown while trying to save someone else from a rip current. For more information on rip currents, visit the USLA web site
At the beach:
- If you have ever been sunburned, you know nothing hurts more than the pain of spending too much time in the sun without the use of sunscreen. Protect your skin. UVA rays increase the risk of skin cancer, skin aging, and other skin diseases. UVB rays cause sunburn and can lead to skin cancer. Limit the amount of direct sunlight you receive between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. and wear a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 15. Read the label of whatever sunscreen you choose to use, and reapply as directed.
- Drink plenty of water regularly and often, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Your body needs water to keep cool. Avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine in them.
- Wear eye protection. Not only will you look great, but sunglasses can protect against damage that can occur from the UV rays of the sun. Be sure to wear sunglasses with labels that say your sunglasses will absorb at least 90 percent of UV sunlight.
- Wear foot protection. Your feet can get burned from the sand or cut from glass and other sharp objects in the sand.
- Watch for signs of heat stroke, which is life-threatening. If you suspect someone is suffering from heat stroke, call 9-1-1 and move the person to a cooler place. Quickly cool the body by applying cool, wet cloths or towels to the skin (or misting it with water) and fanning the person. Watch for signs of breathing problems and make sure the airway is clear. Keep the person lying down. Signs of heat stroke include:
- Hot, red, usually dry skin. In some cases, such as during athletic activity, the skin may be moist
- Changes in consciousness
- Rapid, weak pulse
- Rapid, shallow breathing
Follow these tips to stay safe in and around the water this summer. Visit our web site for more safety information on specific water activities. And have a safe and happy summer.
About the United States Lifesaving Association:
The United States Lifesaving Association is America's nonprofit, professional association of beach lifeguards and open water rescuers. USLA works to reduce the incidence of death and injury in the aquatic environment through public education, national lifeguard standards, training programs, promotion of high levels of lifeguard readiness, and other means. Find out more about USLA at www.usla.org.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and counsels victims of disasters; provides nearly half of the nation's blood supply; teaches lifesaving skills; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization – not a government agency – and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its humanitarian mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at www.redcrosschat.org.