Category Archives: Learn

Sun, Sand, and Waves – Keeping Safe at the Beach Part 1

by Mario Vittone

It’s that time of year again – Beach time! To me, almost nothing is more fun than a day (or ten) of blue skies, sun, and surf. While fun, beaches have their own set of hazards. But you can manage them by doing just a few things before you set-up the chairs and point the kids at the waves. Here’s what to do:

Talk to the Guards

My first and best advice is to try to swim at beaches where there are lifeguards present. The United States Life Saving Association (USLA) estimates the chance of drowning on a guarded beach is 1 in 18,000,000.  Even so, the same rules about close supervision still apply, the surf is a whole different kind of water and beach guards are trained to handle it.

Make sure to talk to the guards before hitting the waves. Even if you have tons of experience and you know what you’re doing in the water, local guards usually know more and have been studying the waves on their beach.  They can warn you against dangerous currents or rough water, clue you in to local hazards like jellyfish or other pesky critters. The point is to talk to the pros before you go and be as aware as you can of the conditions.

I once nonchalantly asked a lifeguard, “How’s the water today?” – I wasn’t expecting anything but a casual answer.  “Good so long as you stay out of there,” he said, pointing out two serious rip currents that I couldn’t see from my vantage point.  He had a much better view from his elevated chair than I did and could easily see the rip currents that I hadn’t noticed.

Stay Safe at the Beach

Spot, Avoid, and Know How to Handle Rip Currents

All that water rolling in on the waves has to go back out. In certain conditions, that returning water is channeled into columns of seagoing water. That’s what a rip current is. Sometimes they move slow enough to barely be detected. But given the right circumstances relating to waves and beach profile, they can develop into currents moving at speeds of up to 8 feet per second – faster than anyone could possibly swim. Ranging in size from just a few feet to hundreds of yards, their pull can be to just outside of the breaking waves to over a hundred yards from shore.

As with all risks, avoiding it altogether is best. Though not always visually detectable (Again, ask that guard) stronger rip currents can give off some telltale signs. Look at the water and you may see:

  • An area of water through a surf zone that is a different color than the surrounding water
  • A break in the incoming pattern of waves – creating a smooth patch of water*
  • Seaweed or debris moving out through the surf zone
  • Isolated turbulent and choppy water in the surf zone

*Many assume the calm water at the beach is the safest place to swim, but be aware that the safe looking water may just look that way.

If you are caught in a rip current, the primary thing to do is to stay calm and relax. Swim slowly and conservatively parallel to the shoreline or relax, practice your best float or treading water technique and let it carry you out past the breakers until it slacks. Signal towards shore for assistance by raising an arm or waving, but stay calm. Don’t struggle against the current.

Contrary to myth – rip currents are not “undertow,” a misleading term. They will not pull you under the water. So long as you can tread water or float you will be safe until you can escape the flow and head back. When you head back in, do so at an angle to the shoreline. Again, maintain a slow and relaxed pace until you reach the shore or assistance has arrived. If swimming at a guarded beach ─ and you should be ─ they will most likely have seen you and will be on their way out (or watching carefully).

(Discuss rip currents and how to deal with them with your children. In fact, make them read every page of www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov and write you a report!)

Buddy Rules Apply

No one, not even experienced and strong swimmers, should swim alone. If that is important in pools (and it is) then it’s vital in open water. Personally, I don’t advocate even knee-deep wades into the surf line if you’re alone. In all but the most sloping and gentle beach, the bottom is a mystery at times and you can find yourself swimming when you didn’t intend to – like in the video below:

Have you had a close call at the beach with rough water or a rip current? How did you handle it? Let us know in the comments below – and if you have any questions at all feel free to ask there too.

Stay tuned for Part II where we’ll take on the sun, the sand, and things that sting. Until then, stay safe out there!

Mario Vittone - Water Safety ExpertMario 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.
Mario’s Blog | Facebook Page

What’s in Store This Year From Water Safety Expert, Mario Vittone


by Mario Vittone
Mario Vittone

Welcome to another season of safe swimming and fun at A Water-Full Life! This is my third year writing water safety advice and tips for parents at Swimways.com. I’m really looking forward to this year because we’ve decided to change direction and head to the beach and beyond.

We know you won’t only be in the back yard pool and wanted to give you safety tips for all destinations. I’ll give you my best safety tips for trips to the beach; what to watch for in the surf and the sand. I’ll give you a checklist and good advice on how to take your family on boating adventures while on vacation. You’ll get my thoughts on parasailing, life jacket use, fishing trips, sun safety, and how to avoid and handle jelly fish and other things that sting. We’re even going to cover cruise ships and help you stay safe at sea.

We know that fun in the water is more than just backyard pools and this year we are going to help you and your family be safe no matter where you are this summer. And something else is new for this year’s blog – video! I’ll take you to the beach to show you a rip current develop; we’ll go on a charter boat and show you what you should know about those adventures; you’ll see me find out just how deep the water is even when it looks shallow!

So stay tuned right here to the Water-Full Life Blog. You’ll have fun and be safe wherever the water takes you.

Mario

Mario Vittone - Water Safety ExpertMario 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.
Mario’s Blog | Facebook Page

5 Off-Season Pool Safety Tips

by Matt Giovanisci

Pool safety doesn’t stop when the summer ends and the cover goes on. In order to protect your family, neighbors and pets, a few steps have to be taken. Follow these five helpful tips to guarantee a safe and accident-free off-season.

aluminum pool safety fence

1. Invest in a Safety Fence

Fencing is actually a legal requirement in several states, so this one is a classic no-brainer. Having a secure perimeter fence with a lockable gate is the most important step one can take to secure a pool area, on or off-season. Legally, a pool owner may be liable for any person or even pet that suffers injury due to a pool that isn’t adequately fenced in.

Besides offering safety, proper pool fencing also acts as a barrier to debris, keeping leaves and other windblown objects away from your pool and its cover. While chain-link is the most cost-effective option, investing in attractive wood or vinyl fencing will add to the pool area’s beauty while offering protection.

2. Get a Safety Cover

There are pool covers, and then there are pool covers. While an inexpensive tarp may hold off debris and rainwater through the off-season, it won’t do so effectively. It also won’t be very safe. Any adult, child or large animal that accidentally finds themselves on the cover will almost certainly dislodge a tarp, even if it’s weighed down at the edges. This leaves the potential victim of tragedy submerged in cold water with dozens of square feet of tarp – not a pleasant scenario.

A secure, durable pool cover stretched taught and secured by ring bolts is the ideal protection for an inground pool. For above ground pools, safety covers are available, but the most imperative step is to make sure that the stairs leading to the pool be secured with a locked gate. A pool can be a dangerous place, and never more so than when the temperature is low and help is indoors. For that reason, pools should be kept firmly and securely covered.

3. Gate Alarms Are a Good Idea

Assuming the pool is secured by a perimeter fence, the gate must be one that can’t easily be bypassed by the unsuspecting. A self-locking gate is the best place to start, but for the extra measure of safety we recommend adding a gate alarm. These small, inexpensive alarms are installed onto the gate and emit a shrill sound when someone opens it. This serves as a warning to whoever enters the pool area while alerting anyone within hearing that someone is passing through the gate.

Pool gate alarms are particularly important for children, who are the least likely to understand the dangers of a closed pool, and pets, who may have no concept whatsoever of the hazard. The offensive sound will instinctively drive both away from the pool area, and bring the attention of any nearby adults.

4. Remove Electrical Equipment

If your pool area is equipped with electrical equipment such as lights, radios, or even the filtration system, some safety steps must be taken. Remove all wiring from the pool area for the duration of the off-season. Cover all outlets. Take away any electrical equipment that is portable, and store it for the winter. Any electrical equipment or wiring has the potential to become a fire hazard, especially when left unattended for an entire season.

5. Proper Communication

As always, the most powerful defense against any safety hazard is knowledge. As a pool owner, it is your responsibility to communicate to your family and neighbors the potential dangers of a closed pool. Talk to your children and their friends about pool hazards in the same way you’d warn them about crossing the street or talking to strangers.

Make sure that your neighbors know how dangerous a closed pool area can be to their children or pets if wandered into. If using a gate alarm, make your neighbors aware of what the sound indicates. They may be the ones coming to the rescue in your absence.

By following these simple steps, you can rest assured that your pool, your family, and your neighbors are safe year-round, and look forward without anxiety to the start of the season.

If you want to learn more about pool safety and DIY pool care, be sure to visit Swim University and enjoy a plethora of how-to videos, articles and online tools to help you take care of your swimming pool, both on and off-season.

Happy Swimming!

Matt Giovanisci - Pool and Spa Care Expert

Matt-Giovanisci is the creator of Swim University, a website that teaches homeowners how to take care of their pools and hot tubs by providing simple how-to articles, entertaining videos, and online tools. Matt started working in the pool and spa industry when he was just 13 years old at a local pool supply store in town. He quickly became a manager at age 16, running the store entirely by himself. Since then he’s worked at a few different pool and spa companies before focusing his full attention on Swim University.
Swim University | YouTube Channel