Don’t Let A Trip to the Beach Turn into an Episode of Survivor
By: Chris Silver, Hampton Fire/Rescue
Growing up in a coastal community, it is hard to imagine ever living apart from the mysterious allure of the ocean and it’s beautiful beaches. A trip to the beach can provide hours of delight as families enjoy the many recreational activities available to all ages. The sun, the sand, the cool spray of the crashing waves is what attracts visitors each day.
It is this same attraction that can turn your day of fun in the sun into a day of unnecessary tragedy. Scorching sunburns, cuts and scrapes, or worse…near drowning can ruin an otherwise pleasurable vacation.
Before you travel to the beach, here are some tips to help keep your family safe and your trip memorable.
The sun is shining, there isn’t a cloud in site, looks like a great day to head out to the beach to catch some rays and start working on that tan. Direct sunlight can be damaging to your skin putting you at increased risk for skin cancer in later years. Overexposure to the sun’s UV (ultraviolet) rays can cause painful sunburns and in extreme cases require treatment by a physician. Even on a cloudy day the sun’s UV rays can cause sunburn.
It is a good idea to check the daily forecast on the local news or in the newspaper to see what the projected UV Forecast will be for the day. Generally the sun’s rays are the greatest during the hottest hours of the day. As a rule of thumb, the higher the UV, the higher the SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of sunscreen you should use. Sunscreen with a SPF of 15 or greater should be applied paying particular attention to your face, nose, and ears. Always be sure to check with your child’s pediatrician before applying sunscreen to very young children. To protect your head, wear a hat. Your eyes are also at risk of damage from the sun. Wear sunglasses with UV protection that absorb at least 90% of UV sunlight.
While you are at the beach, be sure to drink plenty of non-carbonated beverages that are low in caffeine. Beverages that contain caffeine or alcohol can cause dehydration. The daily heat and sun causes our bodies to lose a significant amount of fluids. Our bodies rely on replacing this lost fluid to remain cool. Even if you are not thirsty, you may still be at risk.
Watch for signs of heat exhaustion or the more serious condition of heat stroke. Signals of heat stroke include hot, red, dry skin; changes in consciousness; rapid or weak heart rate; or rapid and shallow breathing. If you see these symptoms call 9-1-1 immediately. It is also recommended to move the person to a cool location and keep them lying down until the EMT’s or Paramedics arrive.
When you arrive at the beach, be sure to carefully check the area you are going to stay at. Some heavily used beaches may have broken glass hidden in the sand. Wearing foot protection can not only protect your feet from cuts and scrapes, but can also keep them from being burned by the hot sand.
The best thing anyone can do before going in the water is learn to swim. According to the U.S. Lifesaving Association, drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death in the United States, and the second leading cause of death for people ages 5 to 44. For children ages 1 to 2, drowning is the leading cause of injury death.
Teach your children to swim at an early age. Swimming instruction is a crucial step to protecting children from injury and death. Contact your local Red Cross chapter or check their web-site www.redcross.org for information on courses.
Never swim alone or let your children swim alone. Children must have constant supervision around any water environment no matter what their skills are or how shallow the water. Many non-swimmers will often use an inflatable floatation device such as a raft when in the water. Don’t rely on these types of inflatable devices. If you fall off or if the device loses air you may be left in a dangerous position. The only floatation device that should be used is a U.S. Coast Guard approved personal floatation device. Check the label to be sure it has the proper approval.
Whenever possible choose beaches with lifeguards. Lifeguards will be familiar with the conditions for the day and be able to tell you where you should and should not go. Many beaches will use a flag or other signal to indicate areas with hazardous conditions such as rip currents. Always stay within the designated swimming areas and in sight of a lifeguard. If you are unsure, ask a lifeguard to point these areas out so you can learn to recognize what one looks like.
Rip currents are sometimes referred to as “rip tides” or “undertows”. These terms are somewhat inaccurate because rip currents really do not have anything to do with tides and they do not pull people under. The movement of waves and the return of water away from the shore form rip currents. As the waves flow in, water is pushed up the slope of the shore. Normally it flows evenly back out to sea. When the waves have formed channels in the sandy beach floor or have created sandbars, the water returning to sea does not flow in an even path. The returning water will try to flow around the sandbar or through the deeper channeled area. These areas create greater currents and are generally strong enough to pull someone further away from the shoreline.
Try to avoid swimming where rip currents are present, but, if you become caught in one do not try to swim directly back into shore. Swimming against a rip current is like trying to swim up river. Instead, remain calm and swim across the rip current parallel to the beach. Most rip currents are not very wide and you will soon be in an area out of the current. You can then swim back to shore.Ensuring a safe trip to the beach carries with it a lot of responsibility, especially if you are a parent. If you follow these simple safety tips you should have an enjoyable visit providing you and your family many happy memories. If you plan to travel to Hampton Beach you can find more information about the beach and our rules for safety at www.hamptonlifeguards.org or at www.hamptonbeach.org. Hope to see you here, have fun and stay safe!
Chris Silver is a Deputy Chief of Safety and Training for Hampton Fire/Rescue. He can be reached at 603-926-3316 or by mail at Hampton Fire/Rescue,
64 Ashworth Avenue, Hampton, NH 03842.
Article also ran in the Nashua Telegraph on 8/2/04 p.28