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For many families and individuals, summer vacations and weekends mean trips to the beach. But when heading out for beach day, it’s important to keep several safety issues in mind, particularly for those who are maybe infrequent beachgoers. From rip tides to warning flags to jellyfish, the beach environment brings with it risks that are distinct from other water getaways.

So if you are headed to the coastline this summer, here are a few safety considerations to keep in mind:

Avoid Rip Currents

Rip currents are currents of water that flow away from the shore, usually forming near breaks in sandbars or near structures like piers. These are strong—and sometimes very swift and unpredictable—currents that can pull swimmers away from the shore.

Swimmers should always obey lifeguards and warning signs that warn about rip currents. And if you get caught in a rip current, it is important to:

  • Stay calm and don’t fight the current.
  • Escape the current by swimming in a direction following the shoreline. Once free of the current, swim at an angle toward the shore
  • If you are unable to escape, float or tread water and then when the current weakens, swim at an angle towards the shore
  • Draw attention to yourself by facing the shore and call or wave for help

If you see someone in need of assistance, do not become a victim yourself. Instead, get the help of a lifeguard or yell instructions to the person from the shore. If possible, throw the victim something that floats.

Obey Warning Signs and Flags

Swimming at the beach means swimming in an environment that is constantly changing. Before heading out, make sure that you know the local warning signs and that you obey all swimming recommendations and advisories. Often, beaches use a flag warning system to communicate daily conditions.

Yellow indicates an elevated hazard level, meaning that greater caution than normal is necessary

Red indicates the highest hazard level, usually rough conditions such as strong surf or currents. In these situations, all swimmers are discouraged from entering the water. If two red flags are flying together, swimming is prohibited

Purple signifies that there are marine pests, such as jellyfish, stingrays or other marine life that can cause injuries present in the water.

Know how to handle stings, bites and cuts

Beaches are full of marine life—such as jellyfish—that can sometimes be hazardous to swimmers. The severity of the sting will depend on the species of animal involved and the person’s own individual immune response. For all types of stings, remove any tentacles using a glove or towel and rinse the area with seawater. Use ice for pain relief. Call 911 for any serious reactions.

In addition to jellyfish, stingrays and other types of fish often inhabit shallow ocean waters. To prevent injury, shuffling your feet while wading will normally cause the animal to move away.

While extremely rare, shark attacks are also a risk of ocean swimming. To reduce the risk even further, avoid swimming at dawn or dusk and stay away from schooling fish.

Being aware of these and other safety issues will help ensure that your day at the beach remains fun for everyone.

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