A sure way to spoil a family beach vacation, however, is having someone get sick, or injured, or even die. While beach vacations are great, they are not without some risks.
See these 10 tips for a safe family beach vacation.
1. Heed the local warnings
It’s important for people to understand that the wind generates waves. The higher the wind, the stronger the waves. When the surf is up, it’s a sign that there are stronger currents and more frequent waves – both of which may be too much for the average swimmer and certainly for small and adventurous children.
The typical flag-based warning system for ocean beaches in the U.S. is:
Double red flags – don’t even think about going in or near the water; it’s too dangerous.
Red flag – dangerous conditions and you should stay very close to shore and be prepared to leave the water in an instant.
Yellow flag – moderately dangerous conditions, but strong swimmers can venture out farther.
Green flag – mild ocean conditions. It’s safe for all levels of swimmers.
But even these are not always present. In foreign countries, you may have no warnings or a different warning system to learn. Ask the local lifeguards or the managers at your hotel or resort for their recommendations.
2. Alcohol and swimming or boating don’t mix
Nearly half of all catastrophic injuries – including drownings – involve alcohol consumption. Even small amounts of alcohol can impair your judgement, balance and coordination. The level of alcohol in a person’s body is higher when they’re not drinking plenty of water and they’re out in the sun – three factors that lead to dehydration.
Alcohol also reduces your body’s ability to stay warm, so if you fall off a boat into chilly water, you could have trouble maintaining your body warmth long enough for you to swim to safety or be rescued.
Note: injuries incurred while you’re over the local legal blood alcohol content limit are not covered by travel insurance plans so it’s important to stay under the limit.
3. Ask about wave conditions – rip currents and shorebreaks
It’s a great idea to ask the local lifeguard about wave conditions at the beach before you get in too deep. Rip currents account for more than 80% of rescues performed by beach lifeguards. They are powerful, channeled currents of water that flow away from the shore and the can quickly pull even very strong swimmers far out to sea. Rip currents typically extend from the shoreline through the surf zone and past the line of breaking waves.
Shorebreaks are identified by that beautiful condition when waves smash onto the shore spraying water, foam and sand, but they can also be deadly.Serious neck and spinal injuries as a result of shorebreaks have badly injured inexperienced and experienced swimmers and surfers. Shorebreaks can occur in low and high surf.
4. Real drowning doesn’t look like on TV
Drowning is the second most common cause of accidental death in children (just behind car accidents). Of the approximately 750 children who will die every year, over half of them will do so within 25 yards of an adult. In an article in the Coast Guard’s On Scene magazine, drowning is explained to look very different than what we’re taught from television and movies.
- Drowning people cannot wave for help – they’re naturally trying to keep their mouths above water and waving their arms would allow them to sink.
- Drowning people alternate sinking below the water and reappearing bu they’re not above the water long enough to fully inhale or call out.
- Drowning people’s bodies remain upright in the water – usually with no evidence of a supporting kick.
Unless they’re rescued, drowning people can only struggle on the surface for 20-60 seconds before going under again. See this article for more information and learn the signs of drowning.
5. Go inside when you see lightning
When a storm rolls in, the beaches often close but if you’re traveling in an area with little beach oversight or maintenance, you may not be called in and told to get inside. Lightning strikes on beaches is extremely common and it’s the third deadliest threat for sunbathers and swimmers every year.
Don’t wait for the storm to blow over. Enjoy the view from inside your cabana instead.
6. No diving until you know the depth
Never dive head first into the water – even if you know how deep it is because conditions under the water (like fallen rocks) could have changed since you were here last. Two thirds of all catastrophic neck injuries occur in open-water areas and not in swimming pools. The sand underwater is not soft and forgiving either – it’s hard-packed from the water pressure.
Always go feet first until you can scope out the underwater depth and conditions if you must dive, but feet-first is still the only safe way for you and the kids to enter the water.
7. Look but don’t touch
On the beach and underwater there is lots of marine life to get a good look at when you’re swimming, snorkeling, even diving. Some marine life washes up on the beach, and when this happens it’s not a good idea to get too close or touch it. After all, you could hurt the creature or it could hurt you. Don’t let curiosity get the better of you or the kids – look but don’t touch.
8. Take frequent breaks
Exhaustion, sunburn, hypothermia, heat stroke and more are all common problems when spending time at the beach by the water all day long. Set your watch and take a short break every hour. Go to the restroom, drink some fresh water, have a light snack, re-apply sunscreen, all of those are vital to being comfortable after a long day of sun, sand, and salt water. Taking frequent breaks lets you see that everyone still has energy and feeling OK.
9. Avoid jellyfish, bottles, and fish hooks
All jellyfish sting but most aren’t toxic enough to do much harm. The box jellyfish, on the other hand, is extremely deadly. If someone is stung by a jellyfish they should seek medical attention immediately for proper treatment.
How do you know if the area has jellyfish? You’ll need to consult a local guide or ask around. Some areas have swarms that occur at different times of the year, and as long as you stay out of the water at those times, you’ll be safe.
Bottles, bits of bone, fish hooks and more, however, are nearly always present on sandy beaches. The detritus of centuries of beach-goers gets ground into the sand and occasionally cuts a foot or ankle. If you have packed your travel medical kit, you can treat minor cuts and abrasions pretty quickly. Often the lifeguard station will have a first-aid kit and can help.
10. Cloudy swimming pools are a no-no
Many beach-side vacation rentals, hotels, resorts and more also have swimming pools. Water quality in any swimming pool can be affected by biological toxins, like bacteria, and chemical toxicants, like chlorine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there has been a substantial increase in the number of recreational water illness outbreaks directly associated with swimming.
On one side of the spectrum you have your average recreational water illnesses including:
Many of these germs are spread by feces and one person can contaminate an entire pool – every year these infections make thousands of people very sick.
On the other side of the spectrum, you’ve got chlorine. Contrary to popular belief, chlorine does not kill all germs instantly. Many have evolved to tolerate chlorine and others take awhile to succumb to the effects of chlorine.
If you’re traveling far from home and enjoying your family vacation at a resort in Jamaica and one of your children starts to run a very high fever in the night, you’ll want to have travel medical insurance on your side to help you find adequate local medical care and pay for that medical treatment.
Use these tips to know if the swimming pool is safe:
Avoid pools that look cloudy. You should be able to see clearly to the bottom. It may not be 100% free of germs, but it’s an indication that the pool is being maintained.
Avoid pools with slimy or sticky sides. It’s a sign that the water isn’t as clean as it should be.
Always shower before getting in the pool and never let someone in the pool if they’re sick – especially if they have a stomach bug.
Avoid getting the swimming pool water in your mouth and tell the kids not to swallow it.
You’re surprised we didn’t list shark attacks? While the thought of being chased by a great white terrifies most people, there are many other things that can kill or hurt you at the beach before sharks.