Four Important Tips to Help Protect Your Family at the Beach

With school out of session and summer in full swing, it’s tempting to take a trip to enjoy the simple pleasures of the seashore – sun, sand, and surf. It is easy for these same things we love most about the beach to also cause us harm and turn a relaxing excursion into an ordeal.

Here are a few factors that we think deserve special awareness, and, with proper attention, can minimize the risk of injury and keep your beach trip safe and fun.

Watch the Weather

Though it may seem silly to do on a clear sunny day, take a moment to check the weather forecast for your beach of choice before you or your family take to the sand. Paying attention to the weather can help you protect your family from threats to your vacation, such as summer thunderstorms and rip currents.

We might love summer thunderstorms for breaking the heat of a stifling day, but their strength can pose a real threat for unaware beach goers. They can spring up in a matter of minutes along the ocean, move very fast, and are capable of issuing deadly lightning.  Further, lightning tends to strike anything that sticks out on an empty beach, can travel through water with killer force, and can strike up to 25 miles away from a storm.[1]

If thunderstorms are in the forecast (or even if they are not!), be aware of changing conditions and get off the beach as soon as you hear thunder or see lightning, even if it seems far away. Take shelter in a building, bathroom, or your car and do not return to the beach until well after the weather clears.

While we all love to run our toes through the ocean surf, the gentle waves can still produce potentially dangerous rip currents. Rip currents can form when waves disperse along the beach, causing water to be trapped between the beach and a sandbar or other underwater feature.[2] The surf-zone current moves away from the beach in a high speed river-like channel that can trap unsuspecting beach goers who try to swim away.

Before visiting the beach, check the National Weather Service Surf Zone Forecast as rip currents often occur when there is clear, sunny weather. Once at the beach, swim with a buddy and ensure that you know where the emergency flotation devices are located.

Respect Lifeguards and Their Warnings

Lifeguards have unique knowledge of local weather and water conditions and are trained to help keep you safe. Immediately upon your arrival at the beach, you should locate their stands and observe any warnings they may display. Ask them any questions you may have or to explain any display that you do not understand. If they blow a whistle at you or give you a direction, follow it and see that anyone with you does the same.

It’s also a good practice to choose a beach spot close to lifeguards in order to make their job easier. Lifeguards have you and your family’s best interest at heart, so utilize and respect them.

Watch the Waves and Swim With Care

Always keep a healthy regard for the power of the ocean; it’s stronger than you think.  Breaking waves can knock you down, cause neck and spinal injuries, and quickly tire out even the strongest swimmers. That’s why it’s a good idea to always observe and evaluate water conditions before you or those with you begin to swim.

Stay out of the ocean if the waves are too big for you to swim comfortably in. Further, always realistically gauge the swimming skills of those with you. Never allow someone to swim outside of his or her ability level. Also, don’t forget that waves and water movement make an ocean swim much different than a dip in a pool.

A panicking swimmer can often injure those who try to help them, so get a lifeguard if you suspect a swimmer is in need and only attempt to provide help on your own as a last resort.

Seek Shelter From the Sun

Everyone knows the pain of sunburn, but not everyone knows the danger of extreme sun exposure. One major sunburn as a child, or just five throughout a lifetime more than doubles the risk of developing melanoma later in life.[3]  However, this risk can easily be thwarted through regular applications of sunscreen and use of protective clothing.

When purchasing and applying sunscreen, several factors are good to keep in mind. Higher SPF sunscreens are the best choice for the intense rays of the beach, and care should be taken to purchase sunscreen designed for use in wet and sweaty environments. Sunscreen should be applied before sun expose to allow time for the product to set. Further, reapplication is frequently necessary after time in the water, toweling off, or after about an hour of sun time.  Don’t forget that sunlight reflects off of sand and water, so you’re not totally protected while in the shade.

Finally, sunshine has a tendency to superheat sand, especially along pathways and dunes away from the cooling ocean, so always wear shoes when walking to protect sensitive feet from burns and blisters.

Be safe and have fun!

A family outing to the beach can be a memorable experience. Follow the suggestions outlined above so you can also make that experience a safe one.


[1] From “Lightning on the Beach,” http://www.beachhunter.net/thingstoknow/lightning/.

[2] From “How to Avoid Getting Caught in a Rip Current,” http://www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov/.

[3] From “Stay Safe at the Beach – 13 tips for preventing injury and illness,” http://greatist.com/health/beach-safety-tips.