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Sun, sand and safety

Tips for a great day at the beach

Photo: Ridofranz/iStockphoto

Bathing suit? Check. Beach towel? Check. Sunscreen and sunglasses? Check and check.

Packing for a day at the beach “requires a lot of thought,” said Kevin Pearsall, who serves as the Orange County superintendent for California’s state park system.

Check out these tips from Pearsall and other experts to make sure your sun- and fun-filled day is a safe one, too.

On the sand

Keep kids safe: Children can get lost “in a heartbeat,” said Tom Gill, vice president of the U.S. Lifesaving Association. So it’s super important to keep close watch over them – especially on busier beaches.

Pearsall recommends you find a spot near a lifeguard tower when you’re looking to set up for the day. On many beaches, the towers are numbered, making it easy for kids to remember their location.

Protect your feet: White sand beaches can get hot quickly under the sun, while rocky beaches have plenty of hazards that can injure your feet. Another danger: human-made trash, such as glass and medical waste.

“The days of walking around barefoot are over,” Pearsall said. Protect your feet by, at a minimum, wearing sandals.

Secure umbrellas: Beach umbrellas are great for shade. But if they’re not secured well, they can blow away and cause injuries. To ensure safety, plant the pole of your beach umbrella in the ground, then rock it back and forth until the base is buried at least 2 feet deep. Lastly, tilt the top of the umbrella in the direction of the wind to help keep it from blowing away.

In the water

Understand rip currents: More than 100 people are killed in rip currents each year in the United States, the USLA estimates. These strong, narrow currents flow away from the shore and can pull you out into deep water. Common in large bodies of water, they can be difficult to spot if you’re an inexperienced swimmer.

If you find yourself caught in a rip current, Gill has advice. “The first thing people need to understand is they can just float. If they can relax and stay calm, they can survive a rip current,” he said.

“If you’re capable, find an escape route swimming laterally to a sandbar (often where the waves are breaking). If not, signal for help using arms and voice.”

Swimming against a rip current can exhaust your energy. Instead, the National Weather Service says, swim parallel to shore until you’re out of the current.

Sharks and other wildlife: Although shark attacks are rare, Pearsall said they’re one of the most common things visitors ask about. The National Ocean Service says that if you see a shark, you should leave the water as quickly and quietly as possible and alert other beachgoers and lifeguards.

A more likely threat to swimmers? Jellyfish. The same goes for spiny sea urchins, lionfish and stingrays. Be-fore you head to a particular beach, do some online research.

Algae blooms: Whether in a lake or an ocean, harmful algae blooms “can and do happen anywhere in the country,” cautions Richard Stumpf, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. “You could go to a beach and swallow some water in a place that had an algae bloom and you’d think you ate some bad potato salad or something.”

Swimmers can get skin problems (such as dermatitis) from being in fresh water or salt water with a bloom, which is recognizable by a green color on the water’s surface.

Blooms also can be caused by agricultural or septic tank runoff, Stumpf said. If your skin has come in contact with a bloom or you’ve swallowed water in an area that has a bloom, talk with your doctor.

Under the sun

Pack properly: Treat your day at the beach as if you’re attending an all-day sporting event, Gill said.

“You’re going to take a big cooler with lots of water and healthy snacks,” he said. And don’t forget proper clothing, which includes long-sleeved shirts or cover-ups, hats, and ultraviolet protective sunglasses. The American Cancer Society recommends applying sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 30 every two hours – more often if you’ve been in the water or are sweaty, and reapplying after you’ve been swimming.

Practice hydration: “Water is vital, even if you’re not at the beach, but especially when you’re in the sun in the summer months,” Pearsall said. This means drinking water throughout the day and avoiding alcohol consumption.

“Alcohol and swimming go together like drinking and driving,” Gill said. “They’re a no-no.”

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