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Summer Safety at the Beach

July and August are indisputably the busiest months at the beach here in the northeast. They are the hottest months and kids are off from school, so it’s a popular time for Families to head to the shore. We want you to have a safe and fun experience, so we are sharing a list of beach safety tips published by the United States Lifesaving Association, which is a nonprofit association of beach lifeguards and open water rescuers.  

Guide to Safety Tips

Swim Near a Lifeguard:

Reports from lifeguard agencies nationwide consistently show that the odds of a swimmer fatally drowning at a beach protected by USLA affiliated lifeguards is 1 in 18 million (.0000055%). While swimmers must take some responsibility for their own safety, lifeguards are trained to recognize hazardous conditions, advise swimmers how to stay safe, respond to emergencies, and provide medical care for those in need. Lifeguards work to prevent drowning and injury through constant vigilance and interaction with the swimming public. When you arrive at the beach, check with lifeguards for designated swim areas and their safety advice.

Learn to Swim:

Every day, about ten people die from unintentional drowning. Your best insurance against drowning is learning to swim. Participation in formal swim lessons can reduce the likelihood of childhood drowning death by 88%. Learning to swim means much more than learning strokes; it is learning water survival skills, water safety, and developing comfort and confidence in the water. Water safety is about having an educated respect for the water, including an understanding of the layers of protection needed to keep ourselves and our loved ones safer when in, on, and around water. If you cannot master the complete technique, at least learn to tread water so you can yell or wave your arms for attention should you find yourself in difficulty. When entering the open water remember:

  • Never overestimate your swimming ability
  • Don’t rely on inner tubes, plastic air mattresses, or other inflatable toys
  • ‘Don’t float where you can’t swim’
  • ‘When in doubt, don’t go out’
Learn Rip Current Safety:

Rip currents are channelized currents of water flowing away from shore at surf beaches that typically form at breaks in sandbars and near structures such as piers and rock groins. The USLA has found that more than 80% of rescues by USLA affiliated lifeguards at ocean beaches are caused by rip currents.

If caught in a rip current:

  • Relax, rip currents don’t pull you under
  • Don’t swim against the current
  • You may be able to escape by swimming out of the current in a direction following the shoreline, or toward breaking waves, then at an angle toward the beach
  • Alternatively, you may be able to escape by floating or treading water if the current circulates back toward shore
  • If you feel you will be unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself
  • If you need help, yell and wave for assistance

To help someone else caught in a rip current:

  • Do not become a victim while trying to help someone else
  • Many people have died trying to rescue rip current victims
  • Instead, get help from a lifeguard
  • If a lifeguard is not present, call 9-1-1, while directing the victim to swim along the shoreline to escape
  • If possible, throw the rip current victim something that floats
Never Swim Alone:

Many fatal drowning deaths involve swimmers out in the water alone. Always swim with a buddy so that if one swimmer has a problem, the other can provide immediate assistance while signaling for assistance to others on the beach, including lifeguards.

Designate a “Water Watcher”:

Supervision could save a life. Watch all children and adolescents swimming or playing in or around water, even if they know how to swim. Young children or inexperienced swimmers need to be within arm’s reach of an adult at all times. When enjoying the beach with a group, make sure to designate a “Water Watcher” whose sole responsibility is to keep an eye on those in the water at all times. This is not a substitute for a lifeguard. Choose a lifeguard protected area and designate a Water Watcher. Learn more about designating a Water Watcher at Water Safety USA.

Alcohol and Water Don’t Mix:

Avoid water recreation when under the influence of alcohol or drugs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among adolescents and adults alcohol use is involved in:

  • Up to 70% of deaths associated with water recreation
  • Nearly a quarter of Emergency Department visits for drowning
  • One in five reported boating deaths

Alcohol influences balance, coordination, and judgment, and its effects are heightened by sun exposure and heat.

Feet First Water Entry:

Life altering injuries from spinal damage, including paraplegia, occur every year on our nation’s beaches. The most common cause is diving headfirst and striking the bottom. In addition, surfing, bodyboarding, and bodysurfing can lead to spinal injuries if precautions are not taken to avoid striking the bottom headfirst. Check for depth and obstructions before entering the water, then go in feet first; and use caution when riding waves, always extending arms ahead of the body. Learn more at the USLA’s spinal injury prevention page.

Life Jackets Save Lives:

Children and non-swimmers should wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved, properly fitted life jacket when in or around the water and at the beach. Wearing a life jacket is the simplest life-saving strategy for recreational boating, paddling, or towed water sports. Some 77% of fatalities associated with boating accidents are from drowning, and 84% of those were not wearing life jackets. Most involve people who never expected to end up in the water, but fell overboard or ended up in the water when the boat sank. All children age 12 and under must wear a USCG approved lifejacket when on a moving watercraft. Learn more about life jacket safety at Water Safety USA.

Observe Signs and Flags:

It sometimes seems as though there are too many signs, but the ones at the beach are intended to help keep you safe. Read the signs upon arrival to learn about hazards specific to that beach and local regulations. Also, look for flags flown by lifeguards to advise of hazards and temporary restrictions in effect. The best bet is to check in with the lifeguard on duty whenever a warning flag is flown. Here are common flags approved by the International Lifesaving Federation and endorsed by the United States Lifesaving Association.

Beat the Heat and Block the Sun:

While everyone loves a sunny day, exposure to the heat and sun affects the body in multiple ways. Immediate effects include:

  • Painful sunburn
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Heat cramps
  • Potentially fatal heat stroke

Long term effects include:

  • Skin cancer
  • Premature aging

To protect yourself,

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Take breaks inside during the hottest parts of the day
  • Use “broad spectrum” sunscreen rated from 15 to 50 SPF and reapply throughout the day
  • Use UPF protective clothing that covers the skin
  • Protect the eyes by wearing sunglasses that block 100% of UV rays

Lifeguards are well trained to deal with heat related emergencies, so if feeling ill request assistance. Learn more about protecting against heat and sun exposure at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.