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Beach Safety

A message from The Center for Physical Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine:

It is that time of year to look forward to the beach and the sun. While fun and relaxing, the beach can also be potentially hazardous. By following these steps, you can help to minimize the risks to you and your loved ones at the beach this summer.

Approximately 80% of lifeguard rescues and 80% of drowning deaths are due to rip currents. Rip currents can occur at any surf beach and are usually more intense as surf size increases. Chances of drowning are 1 in 18 million if a lifeguard is present. Only swim when and where a lifeguard is on duty. The best protection against rip currents is to avoid them. If you find yourself in a rip current, do not panic. Swim to the side (parallel to the shore) until you no longer feel yourself being pulled anymore or tread water until someone can come to help you. Do not attempt to swim against the current as you will not be able to out power it.

Be aware of the potential dangers and never swim alone.

  • Supervise children at all times and stay within an arms length of each other. Do NOT dive or enter the water head-first. Enter only feet-first. 2/3 of all catastrophic neck injuries occur at beaches. Swimming and alcohol don't mix as alcohol can slow reaction times and impair judgment.
  • Shark attacks are actually rare. They average 50-70 attacks per year worldwide. To help avoid a shark's attention, avoid wearing shiny jewelry or swimming at dusk.

Avoid jelly fish. Their sting is generally more annoying than life-threatening. But, if you do get stung the recommended remedies include:

  • Clean stings with sea water and then vinegar, rubbing alcohol, or baking soda (if available).
  • As a last resort, you can urinate on the sting to neutralize it.
  • Remove tentacles with tweezers and "shave" the area with shaving cream and a butter knife then apply vinegar and cortisone cream.
  • Seek medical attention immediately if nausea, vomiting, headache, shortness of breath, or a "stumbling" gait occur.

Understand the flag system:

  • Two Red Flags: extremely dangerous conditions - do not go in
  • Red Flag: dangerous conditions
  • Yellow Flag: caution: moderately dangerous conditions
  • Green Flag: mild conditions

Be aware of the Sun!

  • The sun is important as it is our primary source of Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps in the absorption of calcium which is essential for strong and healthy bones. Too much sun exposure; however, can cause skin and eye damage, suppress our immune system, and result in skin cancer.
  • Sunlight comes in three ultraviolet rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVA passes through the ozone layer so a majority of our exposure is to UVA rays. Many UVB rays are absorbed by the ozone layer, but we are still exposed to some UVB rays. Both UVA and UVB rays can cause skin cancer. UVC rays are the most dangerous, but are blocked by the ozone layer.
  • It is estimated that most kids are exposed to 50% - 80% of their lifetime sun exposure before the age of 18. High-risk people include those that have moles on their skin, have fair skin and hair, or have a family history of skin cancer. Darker-toned people too can suffer skin damage. Therefore, it is important to start educating and protecting kids when they are young.
  • For babies under 6 months, it is recommended to avoid sun exposure and to dress infants in lightweight long pants and long-sleeved shirts and wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect the face and neck. Sunscreen for babies under 6 months is not recommended.
  • For young children, an SPF of at least 30 that protects against UVA and UVB rays ("broad spectrum") is recommended. Apply at least 30 minutes before going outside and remember to use even on cloudy days and after swimming.
  • For older children/adults, the best protection against the sun is to cover up: wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and cotton clothing with a tight weave (make sure you can't see your hand through it). Try to stay in the shade as much as possible and limit sun exposure during the most intense times of the day (10 am - 4 pm). Sunscreen with at least SPF 30 is recommended. Remember to reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating. Be careful around water and sand as they reflect UV rays and may result in quicker sunburns.
  • Sunscreen should be applied 15-30 minutes prior to going outside to form a good layer of protection. Use generous amounts to ensure adequate coverage. Don't forget about the lips, ears, nose, and behind the neck.
  • Remember that people can still get sunburns on cool, cloudy days. Clouds offer no protection against UV rays. Wear sunglasses to avoid sun damage to the cornea and check with your doctor or pharmacist to see if any medications you or your child is taking may increase sun sensitivity (i.e. antibiotics and acne medications).

By following these quick tips you can help to minimize your and your family's risks so that you may further enjoy the beach, the water, and the sun.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, 2009: AAP Summer Safety Tip Sheet
KidsHealth.org. Sun Safety
Aquatic Safety Research Group, 2005
WebMD, 2006: Beach Safety 101

Last Updated: 5/18/2011