Surf, Sand, and Safety

Beach Safety - First Aid Tips for the Beach

24 hour beach festival
Visiting the beach is a blast, but it does have some dangers.. © Milona Istrefi

Going to the beach is a favorite pastime on both coasts. Sunning, swimming, and partying are all fun, but each comes with its own unique set of dangers.

Staying safe in the ocean is all about knowledge. There are dangers in the water - whether you like to surf, snorkel, or just swim, ocean waves can be tricky to master.

Besides the waves, ocean water contains all manner of dangerous marine animals. Sharks, stingrays, and even the beautiful jellyfish can leave swimmers in pain.

The sand has its own beach wildlife, with odd mating rituals and a fondness for fermented fruits and grains.

Hovering above all is the sun. Harnessed, it gives a bronze glow sought around the world. Overexposure to the sun can be deadly.

Read on to learn all about the dangers lurking at your favorite sandy getaway.

Hitting the Waves

Surfing a wave
Whether surfing, snorkeling, or swimming, everybody in the water has the potential for getting hurt.. © Daniel Flower

It doesn't matter if you prefer to swim, surf, or snorkel. Leaving dry land for the lure of breaking waves has its dangers. Respect the water at all times and watch for rip currents (sometimes incorrectly called rip tides or undertows).

The National Weather Service offers these tips for beachfront swimmers:

  • Whenever possible, swim at a lifeguard-protected beach.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Learn how to swim in the surf. It's not the same as swimming in a pool or lake.
  • Be cautious at all times, especially when swimming at unguarded beaches. If in doubt, don’t go out.
  • Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards. Lifeguards are trained to identify potential hazards. Ask a lifeguard about the conditions before entering the water. This is part of their job.
  • Stay at least 100 feet away from piers and jetties. Permanent rip currents often exist along side these structures.
  • Consider using polarized sunglasses when at the beach. They will help you to spot signatures of rip currents by cutting down glare and reflected sunlight off the ocean’s surface.
  • Pay especially close attention to children and elderly when at the beach. Even in shallow water, wave action can cause loss of footing.

If you are swimming at a beach without a lifeguard, be prepared by reading

how to rescue a drowning victim

. Never dive into water if you don't know how deep it is.

Waves aren't the only hazard the ocean has in store for swimmers and surfers. Marine wildlife can also inflict damage on unsuspecting swimmers.

Dangerous Marine Wildlife

Shark fin in the ocean
One of the most intimidating animals in the world is a shark.. © Tom Burke

Lurking beneath the ocean's surface are predators and prey, many capable of inflicting damage in a way we land-loving mammals aren't always ready for.

The undisputed king of the deep is the mysterious and deadly shark. Sharks are eating machines. Despite their near-mythological predatory status, they have a rather conventional attack - they bite.

Shark attacks are relatively rare in the world, but when they bite we hear about it. Shark bites can be messy and overwhelming for the first aider - especially a lay rescuer. The best way to respond is not to look at the mess as a shark bite, but rather as a collection of soft-tissue injuries.

Besides the mighty shark, stingrays have gotten some negative press in the recent past. Stingray stings are rarely fatal, but can be quite nasty.

Jellyfish are beautiful and can leave unsuspecting snorkelers and swimmers with a painful sting or two. These sneaky predators can leave you scratching your head while trying to figure out how you got stung, but should never leave anybody peeing on the wound. Vinegar is helpful for those jellyfish stings - urine is not.

Of course, the water isn't the only place that animals can be found. There's plenty of wildlife on the beach, too.

Wild Beach Animals

Volleyball on the beach
The beach has its own wildlife, and much of it is nocturnal.. © Andean Condor

The nocturnal wild party animals that are commonly found on beaches, especially around spring break and summer vacation, are drawn to fermented fruits and grains and are known to fight over potential mates.

Drinking too much alcohol is a common problem when you only get a week off from your statistics class. Even though it seems everyone is having a good time, drinking too much alcohol (or water for that matter) can have deadly consequences. Be prepared.

Of course, once the alcohol has been consumed, the fights are bound to break out. Be ready for all the common fight injuries your buddies are going to get as they try to prove who has the most chest hair.

Even when the beachgoers aren't fighting, injuries can happen. Volleyball and frisbee are two favorites at the beach. Be prepared for those ankle and wrist sprains.

With all that sand flying around, somebody's bound to get it in the eye.

As we all know, many of the wild beach animals actually go for the sun exposure, which can be dangerous all by itself.

Basking in the Sun

Sunbathing on the beach
Sunbathing can have deadly consequences.. © Banu

For those who don't want to drink heavily and fight - at least not until dark - there's always the sun. If you're going to the beach for the rays, you're in the right place. Trouble is, it's easy to get too much sun while you're there.

Even if you're using sunscreen, chances are you're making mistakes. Learn to avoid these common sunscreen mistakes.

If you do get too much sun, you'll need to know what to do to treat the sunburn. Don't think it can't be serious, sunburns can be deep enough to cause scarring, infections, and even death.

The sun doesn't just tan or burn, though. There are other dangers of baking out in the hot sun all day, especially if you've been drinking alcohol as well. Dehydration and heat exhaustion are two of the most common.

No matter what your favorite beach activity is, make sure you have all the tools necessary to keep your trip to the beach safe and injury-free.

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