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Beach safety: staying safe in and out of the water

As many families get ready for their summer beach vacations by packing their swimsuits and planning an itinerary, they might be overlooking the most important planning step: prepping for safety. The beach can pose a number of risks, from sunburn to rip currents to jellyfish stings, if you’re not careful. Here are 10 tips on how to make sure your beach trip is fun-filled and worry-free.

Do not swim without a lifeguard present:

Even if you are a talented swimmer, the ocean poses certain risks that are unlike those of any other body of water. In the case of an emergency, lifeguards know the best, safest way to get someone back to shore. It’s wise to also go into the water with someone else so that you can both be accountable for each other.

Read all posted signs and understand flag color meanings:

Often, lifeguards and other beach safety personnel will post information so that beachgoers are aware of the day’s conditions and their personal risk. Generally, read any written signs for important safety information. Be sure to also understand what flags in the sand (typically near the lifeguard’s chair) are generally meant to symbolize: Green means that conditions are safe and signals the lowest amount of caution. Yellow necessitates a medium level of caution due to potentially faster or windier wave or current speeds. A single red flag means that beachgoers face a high level of hazard. Generally, it’s smart to ditch your beach plans if you see this flag. Double red flags means that the conditions are such high hazard that the beach is closed to the public. Purple signifies that dangerous marine life, such as sharks, are prevalent. This flag is usually paired with a green, yellow, single red or double red flag, too.

Check the weather and beach conditions before arriving:

Conditions can change quickly, and it’s extremely dangerous to be in the middle of an open beach, let alone swimming in the ocean, when a storm enters the area. If you check ahead of time, you’ll be prepared to move to shelter if the clouds start to turn darker or you begin to feel rain. The National Weather Service also offers a surf zone forecast map that is useful to check before heading out. It can alert you of the risk of rip currents in your area.

Beware of rip currents:

These occur when a specific spot of water is pulled back out to sea at a considerably faster rate than the areas on either side of it—up to 8 feet per second. Even the best swimmers are vulnerable to the strong pull of rip currents. If you find yourself in one, do not struggle. The currents will not pull you under, so you should bob or tread in the water to avoid wasting energy and exhausting yourself before you can be rescued. If you see someone getting pulled out by a rip current, do not swim after them in the hopes of saving them. You too can get sucked in and need rescued. It’s best to immediately signal to the lifeguard on duty as they are best equipped to handle these situations. Rip currents can also leave you in a part of the ocean with a deep drop-off or underwater objects, such as rocks, debris or sea animals. Avoid touching these or attempting to touch the bottom of the ocean while you wait to be rescued.|

Wear SPF, even when it’s cloudy:

The USDA reports that up to 80% of UV rays can make it through cloud cover, so it’s important to wear your SPF no matter the weather to protect yourself from sunburn, sun poisoning and even skin cancer. Reapplying at least every 2 hours is just as important as your first application of the day in protecting yourself from sun damage.

Pick a landmark and keep it in sight:

Although this is a great tip for your kids, it can be just as useful for you. Before getting in the water, pick a visual landmark on the shore so that you can keep track of where your belongings are and where you should meet up with the rest of your family after getting out of the water.

Drink water and rest:

The sun on the beach is more intense than elsewhere on land because the rays reflect off the ocean and sand and back onto your skin. This heat can leave you feeling more tired than normal. To avoid dehydration and stay healthy, make sure you drink plenty of water and other hydrating beverages and avoid caffeine and alcohol. Take some rest in the shade or under an umbrella throughout the day so you’ll have full energy when you return to the water.

Avoid touching sea creatures:

Especially for children, passing a jellyfish washed up on the shore or seeing a fin far out in the water can be tempting. But keep an eye out for wildlife while walking on the beach or swimming in the ocean as many animals may pose a risk to humans.

Keep your phone nearby:

If an emergency happens, you may need access to your phone to call 911 in a hurry. It can also be helpful to check the weather in your area to learn if conditions become unsafe and require you to seek shelter. Consider putting it in a zip-top storage bag to keep the sand and water from harming it.

Swim sober:

If you’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it’s not safe to go swimming in the ocean. If your kids are in the ocean and you’re watching them close by from the shore, you should not be drinking. Emergencies can happen in a second, and you should make sure that anyone in the water or anyone looking out for someone else in the water is prepared to signal to the lifeguard and/or call 911 with a clear mind. By following these tips, you can make sure your ocean visit stays happy and healthy. Visit Mutual Benefit Group’s Safety Center for more safety tips to keep your family safe all year long.