IMG_0971How to Stay Safe at the Beach this Summer

by Gabbie Baillargeon

Walking along the beach, watching the tide ebb and flow with the salty breeze blowing through your hair seems like a perfect way to spend lazy summer afternoons.  Maybe you prefer watching your kids splash through the ocean with smiles plastered to their face.  Or do you instead enjoy feeling the rise and fall of the swells, and the rush of catching a great wave?  The ocean seems to unite us all because the beach offers something for everyone. No matter how experienced you are, there are still guidelines to staying safe when at the beach this summer.

Here is a list of the top 5 practices you should follow in order to have fun and stay safe:

  1. Sun Protection

This doesn’t mean show up to the beach in long sleeves and pants, but do remember to bring sunscreen and sunglasses!  Ideally, sunscreen should be applied 15 minutes before sun exposure, and should be reapplied every two hours; every sunscreen is different so check the bottle for exact instructions.  The real question is what is the best SPF.  The answer is complicated, as it is not only the SPF that matters but also the type of UV rays that it blocks.  UltraViolet rays are invisible electromagnetic waves (radiation) that the sun emits. UVA rays cause accelerated aging and can even trigger skin cancer; however, they are not responsible for sunburn.  Most sunblocks target UVB rays because they cause sunburn, but when choosing a sunscreen it is important that it blocks both.  Additionally, SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays, so experts recommend using sunscreens that are between 30-50 SPF as higher SPFs do not better protect your skin.

  1.  Obey Flags

Lifeguards will post different flags to communicate what the water conditions are that day.  It is important that you pay attention to them, as they could warn you of potential hazards.  For example, when water quality is poor, it is suggested that you do not enter the water because it could damage your skin.

  1. Know How to Spot a Rip Current      Rip_Currents_Schematic_(Medium)

Rip Tides are synonymous with Rip Current, which is a narrow break in the waves which then flows directly back out into the ocean.  Rip currents are deadly because the belt of fast flowing water is easy to get pulled into and difficult to swim out of.  Poor swimmers, sometimes even skilled swimmers, drown in rip currents because they can get pulled hundreds of yards off shore and once released from the current are unable to make it back to shore.  On the surface rip currents can be identified by a choppy, rough current that seems to not go in the same direction as the other waves.  In addition, they can be distinguished by a difference in water colors, or a break in the waves that seems to wash out to sea.  If you do get caught in a rip, swim horizontal to the shore and yell for help.  Remember to never swim opposite the rip current!

  1.  Keep an Eye on Kids

Especially kids under 10 need to have a watchful eye kept on them.  The ocean can quickly turn from calm to rough and unpredictable.  Younger children can more easily get caught in a rip current, or pulled under by a strong wave, so parents need to be attentive.  Children under 5 should hold hands with an adult when near the water, as they are much more susceptible to being knocked down by waves or wandering off too far.  Curiosity is a wonderful gift, but needs to be limited in some instances because it can lead a child into danger.  When on a rocky beach or jetty, small children can easily slip or pick up an animal that would rather not be touched.  In order to avoid danger, help your child safely explore the beach and play in the water by being by their side, and also setting limits on where they can go alone.

  1.  Share the Ocean      full body portuguese man of war

There are lots of creatures that call the ocean home, and when you enter their territory those risks need to be realized and accepted.  Jellyfish are a constant problem, but usually do not result in serious injury.  To avoid being stung by a jellyfish, do not attend a beach where jellyfish frequently wash up on shore.  In addition, if you see a couple jellyfish floating in the water, it is likely that there will be many more because they travel in large groups (think Finding Nemo).  If you do happen to be stung, and it is not severe, rinse the wound with saltwater and scrap it with a flat edge to remove any remaining stingers.  Please note, fresh water activates stingers!

People can not go to the beach on a nice summer day without the fear of sharks lurking somewhere in the back of their mind.  Today, the average for shark fatalities in the U.S. is 19 and, “In 1996, 2600 Americans were injured by room fresheners. Sharks injured 13.”  So the chance of a shark attack is small, but still be on the lookout for sharks swimming in the water.  Do not swim where there are frequent sightings.  Sharks are nocturnal hunters, so they are most active at night; therefore, avoid swimming at dusk and dawn.  If you do see a shark, alert others and swim cautiously back to shore without a lot of splashing.  If the shark is very close to you and about to attack, try to punch their snout and gills as those are their most sensitive areas.

Stingrays burrow beneath the sand so they are hard to spot, in case you are worried that there may be stingrays in the area do the “stingray shuffle.”   Shuffle your feet when wading out into the water, so that you do not step directly on a stingray and spook them, practicing this will decrease your chance of being stung.  As long as we are mindful and respectful of marine animals, there is a decreased chance that a negative encounter will occur.

  1.  Have Fun!

Beaches are the perfect place to make memories that last a lifetime!

References:

http://www.usla.org/?page=RIPCURRENTS

http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/ask-the-experts/does-a-higher-spf-sunscreen-always-protect-your-skin-better

http://natgeotv.com/ca/human-shark-bait/facts

http://king-animal.blogspot.com/2012/09/jellyfish.html#.VXiAizpFDIU

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-2eXYj2RB17w/TvBHWRNIp_I/AAAAAAAAKvc/w40SYdomWfw/s1600/Rip_Currents_Schematic_%2528Medium%2529.jpg      – rip current picture

http://www.messersmith.name/wordpress/wp-content/stingray_img_3328.jpg    – stingray picture