Imagine this: your towel is rolled out on the sand, your umbrella casts the perfect amount of shade, your friends and family are beside you, and the ocean is a shimmering blue as far as the eye can see. What could go wrong?
We’re glad you asked!
A beach trip can be a great adventure, and it often will be. But the day can only be truly relaxing if you stay on top of some basic ocean safety tips. To keep you and your loved ones safe, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
Stick to the Shade
In addition to increasing your risk of cancer, sunburns can cause some painful blistering that can really ruin your day. Be sure to wear a waterproof, broad-spectrum sunscreen and reapply as needed.
Don’t forget that extended sun exposure can lead to severe health issues as well, including heat exhaustion and heatstroke. To avoid these, wear wide-brimmed hats, drink plenty of water, and stay under shady umbrellas or tents when you can.
Be on the lookout for any friend or family member showing signs like dizziness, confusion, nausea, or fatigue. If you notice these signs, cut your trip short and get them cooled down, and seek medical attention as necessary.
Know What Warning Flags Mean
Depending on the state you’re in and the beach you’re headed to, you’ll see different colored flags for different things. Research in advance, ask an on-duty lifeguard, or check posted signs in the area to check the meanings of these flags.
In general, however, you’ll find that the flag system works like a traffic light.
Red flags are a sign of hazardous currents and surf. In some areas, swimming is still allowed in the dangerous water as long as you exercise caution, but if you choose to swim, make sure to stay near a lifeguard. In other areas, a red flag (or a double red flag) means that the beach is closed.
Yellow flags indicate a medium hazard, with moderate surf or currents. Green flags are for calmer conditions and low hazards.
Most areas also have a flag—typically blue or purple—to indicate dangerous marine life, including jellyfish or sharks. In these cases, be cautious if you choose to go for a swim!
Don’t forget (as most beach signs will remind you) that the absence of flags is not a guarantee of calm conditions or safety.
Reconsider Your Swimming Skills
Knowing how to swim can have a significant impact on drowning risk. This is especially true for small children, whose first four lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by up to 88 percent.
But even for older, experienced swimmers, it’s critical to remember that swimming in the ocean is not like swimming in a pool. Be prepared for strong surf, unexpected waves, steep drop-offs in the ocean floor, and intense currents. If you or anyone you’re with feels uncertain of their abilities, it’s best to have a lifejacket just in case.
You should also make sure to swim as close to a lifeguard as possible. Keep in mind that the movement of the water will push you further down the shore over time, so you’ll need to walk or swim back to your starting point periodically. It may be a good idea to set down your towel and essential beach gear near the lifeguard if possible.
Another way to keep yourself and your party safe is to use the buddy system. No one should ever swim alone, especially in overcrowded waters, as it’s easy to miss someone in trouble if no one’s paying attention.
Know the Signs of Drowning
On that note, it’s also important to know what drowning looks like, as it’s often not as dramatic as you’d expect. Swimmers who are drowning have little opportunity to make noise or wave their hands. In fact, drowning can even be quiet or silent.
As mentioned above, use the buddy system to keep an eye on friends and family. Watch for swimmers who are gasping, who have their head low in the water, or who are swimming with eyes closed or hair in their face.
Note that saving someone who’s drowning is harder than you might think. In their panic, they might grab onto you, dragging you both down into the water.
If you’re not in a position to send a lifeguard or extend something they can grab onto so you can tow them to shore, take care when approaching them. Swim behind them, grab them from the back, and make your way back to shore.
Take Care in Strong Currents and Waves
One of the most important concerns when it comes to beach safety is paying attention to the sea itself.
You’ve probably heard of fearsome rip currents, or powerful movements of water that occur perpendicular to the shore. These currents can catch you off guard, pulling you out to sea at high speeds—even on a calm day.
If you’re caught in one, know what to do: stay calm, and don’t struggle against the current. Swimming parallel to the shore can help you make your way free of the rushing water over time. If you keep a cool head, you’ll be able to swim diagonally toward the shore at last, exhausted but safe.
You should also pay attention when the waves are particularly powerful. Surfers love a good wave, but strong ones can lead to broken bones and even blunt organ trauma, especially shore breaks crashing onto the sand.
Keep Ocean Safety Top of Mind
In the excitement of preparing for your perfect day in the sea and on the sand, it’s easy to forget how scarily powerful Mother Nature can be. Remember to consider the natural threats of the surf and sun, and keep your party’s ocean safety in mind throughout the day for the perfect trip.
If you’re heading out for your next beach adventure, don’t forget to grab the gear you need on your next excursion into the great outdoors!