A beach vacation sounds relaxing and easygoing for the entire family, and it most certainly is. So much so, that families that have not spent much time around the ocean let their guard down and may not realize the subtle dangers that can have serious consequences, especially for children.
As a Florida girl who grew up on the beach and was a lifeguard for six years, I have witnessed my fair share of vacationing families that had some scares when it comes to children and the unpredictable nature of the sea. The majority of rescues I saw during my rescue career involved children, which were oftentimes preventable.
As springtime approaches and the weather starts to warm, thoughts of sun and sand are in the back of the mind and family beach vacation plans are in the works. Have fun, enjoy the blissful seaside and everything it has to offer, but never make the mistake of thinking it’s perfectly safe. Here are 7 tips for child safety at the beach.
Talk to Your Kids and Be Aware
Before you and the loved ones depart on your beach vacation, become familiar with the beaches you will be visiting and the weather conditions. Talk with your kids about water safety and know you and your family’s limitations when it comes to the ocean. Keep a constant eye on them and if you need to head somewhere, make sure someone else is watching. Emergencies can happen in the blink of an eye.
Get Chummy With the Lifeguards
Don’t be afraid to talk to the lifeguards for advice either. They may look young and have you thinking, “What does this 18-year-old know?” Keep in mind that lifeguards, young or old, have most likely grown up at the beach and have been swimming in the ocean since they were toddlers. Ocean safety isn’t just about being educated on the rules and having certifications, it’s about experience and comfort in the water. Do you know how to read the waves, swim with strong currents and study the shoreline to see where it dips, where there are sand bars, if there is a storm coming or how to spot sea life? A lifeguard can let you know about these situations and the threats they pose.
The Lifeguard is NOT a Babysitter
What I mean is, do not depend solely on the lifeguard to watch your kids. I don’t know how many times I observed parents setting up next to a lifeguard stand, then let their kids play while they head to the bar. Just because you are close to a lifeguard doesn’t mean they will have their eyes glued to your children, and it is not their responsibility—they have to scan the entire beach and keep an eye on everyone.
Danger isn’t just in the water, it’s on the land too, such as too much sun or even children getting lost down the beach, which is a seriously scary situation when you don’t know whether they stayed on shore or ventured into the water somewhere far from the guard.
That doesn’t mean sharks, in fact, sharks are probably the least of your worries. It is common to see jellyfish wash up on shore and children love them; heck I loved them as a child. They are squishy and weird. But have you heard of the Portuguese man-o-war? These blue balloon-like creatures resemble jellies somewhat, but their stings are excruciating. My family moved to South Florida when I was 4 years old, and that was when I first met the man-o-war. I thought it was unusual and instantly picked it up. Next thing I know, I woke up in the back of the car. The creature’s long, venomous tentacles had wrapped around my arm and the pain was so bad, I had passed out.
Man-o-wars aren’t common everywhere, but they are easy to identify, so warn your children to steer clear if they see one. Lifeguard’s will generally put up an information board each day listing sea life to be wary of, so be sure to take a look. Depending on where you visit and when, there could be sea lice, sand flies, shark migrations or bait fish migrations (which attract large fish and sharks).
This is something to really keep in mind, because when you spend long days in the heat, sun-related illness can sneak up without you suspecting it, and it can be quite serious. Reapply sunblock often, cover heads with hats, provide some shade, such as an umbrella and keep hydrated.
You might often hear stories about rip currents during the summertime, but still, a lot of beach vacationers do not know how to spot one or what to do if they get caught in one.
According to NOAA, rip currents are fast moving, narrow channels that are most powerful at the surface of the water where the waves break on shore. They sweep out to sea, cutting through breaking waves and making it difficult to swim if you are stuck in one. If this happens, do not panic, simply swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current and then swim back in to land. Educate your children on rip currents and when you visit the beach, ask the lifeguard where they are most prevalent in the area.
Know How to Recognize Drowning
It’s more difficult to discern than you may think. Drowners don’t always yell for help; in fact, drowning is often mistaken for splashing and playing, especially in a crowded area. Make sure you study up and know how to recognize when someone’s drowning.