In the past five years, it seems that water safety organizations have done a pretty good job at raising the public awareness. The news always seems to kick off summer with warnings about drowning prevention and warnings about rip currents, there are water safety day’s and awareness campaigns, and tons of messages out there about the safety value of learning to swim. But a trip to the beach is more than just a trip to a really big body of water. Keep these other things in mind the next time you head down to the sand, and have a safer and more enjoyable summer.
The Sun isn’t Always Fun
You’ve heard your mother say it for years and you’ll hear it again: always wear sunscreen. No, I won’t get into the obvious things; we all know a sunburn is bad. At the beach, however, many things combine to make it easier to get one and you need to be aware of the
No matter how “waterproof” a sunscreen claims to be, the salt water, wave action, and play in the sand are constantly working against the protection you put on the kids. Whether you are the cover-up type of parent or if you let the kids soak up the sun – remember to reapply often and remember to force some time in the shade. And if the sun is reflecting off the water, so are the harmful UV rays – so pay attention to more than just faces and shoulders.
My own worst burn at the beach wasn’t on my back but my side. After what felt like hours in the waves at New Smyrna Beach (a personal favorite spot just south of Daytona Beach in Florida) I finally slugged back to the sand for a break. Laying on the hard packed sand next to one of the tide pools that are common on the long sloping beach, I closed my eyes just for a minute. I don’t know how long I was asleep, but I do know the side of my body that was next to the reflecting tide pool was sun damaged beyond belief, and the recovery took weeks. Protect every inch of exposed skin.
Watch Out for Things That Sting
On many beaches in the US, they use a warning flag system to alert bathers of hazards. Most of them are about sea conditions, but it’s the purple flag (below) that gets my attention. Hazardous Marine Life. You can ask the lifeguard, but this doesn’t usually mean sharks, this flag is most often flown for a much more common hazard at beaches – Jellyfish. While they may hold your interest when they are washed up on the sand, believe me, you never want to meet one in the water. And you especially don’t want a small child to find out how painful their sting can be. So no swimming on purple flag days, ok?
If you or someone in your family experience a sting, (Oh – you’ll know it), you get them to a lifeguard station for first aid or you can handle it yourself, but you need to know how. With jellyfish, knowing what not to do may be more important than anything.
Jellyfish can leave barbs in the skin and the attached toxin sacs (nematocysts) can still sting both victim and you during treatment. Do not rinse the area with fresh water, cool with ice, or apply any bodily fluid to the area. This may cause the remaining nematocysts to fire, making things worse. The fresh water and ice can activate the stingers and – well – that other suggestion has always been a bad one.
Salt water (warm is best) helps release them. Using a credit card to scrape them, or shaving the area while using shave soap can also help. If the stingers are large enough, you can remove them with tweezers as well. Once the area is clean, vinegar can help relieve the sting.
Though they rarely require treatment beyond first aid, stings that cover over 50% of an extremity – or are to the face or genitals – should be looked at by a physician as soon as possible. Also, if the pain and discomfort are anything but local to the sting or if their nausea or dizziness, you should also see a doctor.
Again, this is another great thing to ask a lifeguard about before going swimming. If there have been a lot of stings recently, the lifeguards will know it and help avoid the sting altogether.
Things Under the Sand
Down by the shore, toes in the sand; what could be better? Just make sure you are “down by the shore” before losing the shoes. The thick soft sand on the way to the water if usually soft and powdery, but also hides things that aren’t sand very well. Wearing beach shoes or flip-flops in the deeper stuff, at least until you have some confidence about what lies beneath, is a pretty good idea.
Some beaches do not allow fishing from shore, others do. Knowing which kind of beach you’re on can be helpful. Fishing means hooks and no matter how careful people are, hooks get lost. Fishing lines break, and some of them may be right there in that perfect waist high area you and the kids love to play. If you are swimming on a beach where people are actively fishing, consider that business end of the fishing line can be very far from the person holding the rod. Make sure you give yourself plenty of space so the only things that are caught are the fish.
From the editor: How do you stay safe at the beach? Do you have any questions for Mario? Post a comment below!
Mario Vittone is a nationally recognized expert on water safety. His writing on aquatic risk and drowning prevention has appeared in magazines, websites, and newspapers around the world. Mario is a former Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue Swimmer and instructor and has lectured on boating and water safety across the United States. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance and the Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation.
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