Posted by: Karen Fowler
Knowing how to best protect yourself and your family during a day at the beach can go a long way towards a safe and happy day out for everyone. Understanding basic beach safety, including common open water hazards, like rip currents, can help you get the most out of your vacation and avoid dangerous situations. The following is a collection of information and tips to get you ready for your day at the beach.
Beach Safety
One of the best ways to prepare for a day at the beach is to first learn how to swim – swimming in open water is very different than swimming in a pool; this is an important distinction. You may be able to take classes that will help you learn how to navigate natural waters and its potential hazards. When selecting a beach to visit, narrow down your options by identifying which beaches have lifeguards, as their advice and watchful eyes can help you avoid accidents and injuries.
Be mindful of your surroundings. Avoid consuming alcohol before entering the water, as it may interfere with your alertness and perception abilities. Keep an eye out for sudden and unexpected changes in weather, and immediately exit the water if it begins to rain. Don't overexert yourself before swimming – make sure that you conserve enough energy to have fun and safely make the swim back to shore.
Additional beach safety tips:
Rip Currents
Rip currents can be deadly and lifeguards save beach-goers from rip currents more than any other water hazard. These, and similar dangers, are a top reason why beach-goers should only swim in areas where lifeguard assistance is available. Beach-goers should be aware of rip current behavior, such as their ability to form in any water area, including those located next to man-made piers and jetties.
These are some tips to help you stay safe from rip currents:
  • If you're caught in a rip current, don't panic or fight the current. Moving wildly can result in injury or death.
  • Keep an eye on the shore and swim parallel to it while you're still in the current. This can make it easier for you to get back to land once you've been released from the current's grip.
  • Float or tread, if it seems impossible to swim back to land. Don't expend energy fighting the current, if you can use these maneuvers to wait until the current releases you.
  • Identify a lifeguard. Raise your voice and wave to alert him to your emergency, if you feel that you need help to break free of the current. Advise other swimmers of your situation, if they're closer to you, so they can relay the message to the lifeguard.
  • Know that rip currents are common within 100 feet of jetties and piers.
  • If you witness someone being caught in a rip current, advise a lifeguard as soon as possible. You may also call 9-1-1, and throw anything that floats towards the victim, including coolers, while he waits for assistance. Yell out instruction for the swimmer to follow, if you know the procedure to be released from a rip current.
  • To protect yourself against unnecessary accidents, survey the beach before stepping into the water. Keep an eye out for flags or other warning signs designed to advise you of potentially dangerous areas. Strike up conversations with lifeguards, and ask about weather and water conditions on the beach. They may also be able to give you details about previous accidents and common hazards, which can let you know about dangers to watch out for.
  • How Rip Currents Form
  • United States Lifesaving Association Rip Current Survival Guide
  • Rip Currents Safety
  • Rip Tides: A Danger to Swimmers
Sun and Water Safety
Learning about beach and water safety is just the beginning of protecting yourself while on the beach. You also have to take steps to protect yourself while you're on the sand. Sun protection, hydration and buddy systems can give you the support you need while you're lounging and having fun in the sun. They can also spare you from future illnesses and diseases.
Here are some additional tips to make your beach time the best it can be:
  • Use a sunscreen. Choose a product that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of a least 30, and is labeled as "broad spectrum" to help protect you from UVA, as well as UVB rays. Invest in a water and sweat resistant product that will stay on you while you wade or lay out in the sun. Keep in mind that you'll have to reapply the product after 40 minutes of being in the water or, if you have a ultra-resistant product, every hour and 20 minutes.
  • Stay hydrated. Pack plenty of bottles of water in your cooler. Freeze them overnight for an extra cool factor. Consider mixing electrolyte powder into the water bottles for added flavor and replenishment potential.
  • Swim with a friend. Enjoying the water with someone else can do more than just double your fun -- it can also ensure that you have immediate assistance, should you have an accident.
  • Make friends with your lifeguards. Talking to lifeguards on duty may help them identify you while you're out in the water. It can also give you an opportunity to advise them of any health or physical conditions you have that can affect your experience on the beach.
  • Pick up after yourself. Leaving trash behind may pose health and injury risks to future beach-goers. Placing refuse in the appropriate receptacles can also protect wildlife from becoming entangled in it.
  • How to Select a Sunscreen (PDF)
  • Protect Your Beach and Your Health
  • How to Stay Hydrated
  • Florida's Beach Safety