VIDEO - Safety at the beach includes riptide awareness: Your children should know the dangers.
It’s time to brush up on beach safety, moms and dads.
While the beach is a great place to relax, make memories and have fun, it also presents safety issues you don’t encounter inland, things you and your children should be aware of.
Basic beach safety
First and foremost, children and adults alike should never swim with an open wound, when their health is compromised or while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The ocean demands all of one’s faculties. Got it?
In addition, never swim at an unguarded beach. Should the unexpected happen, your chances for survival are drastically reduced.
“You’re putting yourself in harm’s way, and possibly people that are with you,” said Rehoboth Beach Patrol Captain Kent Buckson. “If there’s a situation, there’s nobody there to help you.”
Lifeguards post water conditions daily, and it’s a good idea to go over them briefly with your children before venturing onto the beach. For example, at Rehoboth Beach, you’ll find temperatures, weather and tides posted in front of the beach patrol headquarters at the boardwalk and Baltimore Avenue. Rehoboth lifeguards use a flag system for swimming conditions: green equals calm, yellow equals medium danger, red equals high alert and blue means marine life is present.
Kids who can’t swim should never go in the water above their knees and should always be accompanied by an adult. The American Red Cross recommends young children and inexperienced swimmers wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets.
Accompanying your children in the water and keeping them close by is the best way to assure you can respond quickly if something goes wrong. Children and adults who are competent swimmers should still always swim with a buddy.
Lost and found
In summer 2017, the beach patrol dealt with about 400 missing children. Point out to children a marker like a bright umbrella or a lifeguard stand that is at or close to your beach site. Tell your kids to look for the marker periodically to make sure it is always in sight, and if they can’t find the marker, to approach a lifeguard.
Even for the strictest of rule-followers, sometimes, the unexpected happens. Regardless of your parenting skills, children can disappear within seconds on the beach, both in the water and out. Take a good, 360-degree look, and if you don’t see your child, alert a lifeguard. The sooner you do so, the sooner they’ll be found.
Lifeguards are always glad to help.
“We’re able to relay the description of the child quickly to all the lifeguard chairs, which covers about two miles of beach, and also relay it to police,” Buckson said.
Talk about the sun
Awareness is your best weapon against everything from sunburn to riptide. The ride to the beach is a great time to have this conversation – before the kids are too excited to get their toes in the sand to listen. Here are some topics to cover:
Children’s skin is extra-sensitive to the sun, and it’s well known that overexposure in one’s youth can lead to melanoma in adulthood. Protecting your children, and yourself, from the sun’s rays is vital.
Babies should not have direct contact with sun in the first six months of their lives, according to the Skincare Foundation. If you have to take them to the beach, clothe them in lightweight, long-sleeved apparel that covers their skin. Put a hat or bonnet on them to protect their face and sunglasses to protect their eyes. Use shade tents or umbrellas.
It’s safe to use sunscreen (SPF 15 and up) on children six months and up, but the recommendations for younger babies still apply. The less direct contact with the sun the better, no matter what age.
Sunscreen should be applied a half hour before going outside and every two hours thereafter, and after excessive sweating or being in the water.
The older children get, the more likely they are to encounter peer pressure to be “tan.” When you are no longer with your teen at the beach, always provide them with and encourage use of sunscreen. The Skincare Foundation says the best way to get your kids to practice sun protection is to be a good example: make sure they see you applying sunscreen regularly.
If your child gets sunburned, the Skincare Foundation recommends:For children under one year old, sunburn should be treated as an emergency. Call your doctor immediately. For children one year or older, call your doctor if there is severe pain, blistering, lethargy or fever over 101 F. Sunburn can cause dehydration. Give your child water or juice to replace body fluids, especially if your child is not urinating regularly. Baths in clear, tepid water can soothe the skin. Light moisturizing lotion may soothe the skin, but do not rub it in. If touching the skin is painful, don’t use lotion. Dabbing on plain calamine lotion may help, but don’t use one with an added antihistamine. Do not apply alcohol, which can overcool the skin. Do not use any medicated cream like hydrocortisone, benzocaineunless your baby’s doctor tells you to. Keep your child out of the sun entirely until the sunburn heals.
If an adult gets sunburned, the Skincare Foundation recommends:Get out of the sun as soon as you notice it. Use rags soaked with cold water – not ice – for relief, or take a cold shower or bath. Don’t use harsh soaps, which can irritate the skin even more. While skin is still damp, use a gentle moisturizing lotion (but not petroleum or oil-based ointments, which may trap the heat and make the burn worse). Repeat frequently to keep burned or peeling skin moist over the next few days. Take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin, as directed to help with discomfort and inflammation. Aloe vera and 1 percent over-the-counter cortisone creams may soothe the burn. Drink extra liquids while your skin heals, as you are at a higher risk of dehydration. See a doctor if you have severe blistering, a fever or chills or are woozy or confused. Don’t scratch or pop blisters, which can lead to infection.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, rip currents, also known as undertow, can move at speeds of up to eight feet per second. The name “undertow” comes from the sensation of being pulled out to sea; undertow does not actually pull you under.
Rip currents can be spotted from high points on shore by looking for murky, foamy areas of stirred-up sand and debris moving out to sea in gaps between waves. If you’re able to spot one from the boardwalk or the dunes, point them out to your children and remind them how dangerous they are.
The most important thing to teach children to remember (and to remember yourself) if they become caught in a rip current is to remain calm. Panic is what kills most rip current victims – about 100 per year in the U.S. Waving and shouting to call attention to your plight is important, but not to the point of overexertion.
If you find yourself being pulled out to sea, stop attempting to swim directly to shore, as that will only tire you out. Instead, swim parallel to shore until you’re out of the current and then follow the breaking waves in diagonally.
A rip current occurs in a limited area. By swimming across it, it will eventually dissipate and you will be able to swim in, as long as you stay calm. Assure your children of this.
“If you can’t swim out, just ride it out and relax. Don’t panic. Use your energy to signal for help,” Buckson said. “A riptide will disintegrate.”
If your child or someone else is stuck in a rip current, alert a lifeguard. The NOAA does not recommend civilians attempt to rescue rip current victims. Those who do can end up drowning themselves.
About a half-dozen jellyfish species can be found in the mid-Atlantic region, none of which have a deadly sting.
“We haven’t seen any dangerous ones,” Buckson said of the Rehoboth Beach Patrol. “But we keep an eye out for them.”
Rarely, dangerous species usually found in other parts of the world do wash up, like the Portuguese Man o’War seen in Ocean City, Maryland in recent years. (A man o’war is not a jellyfish at all, but a different species of marine life.)
Allergic reactions to jellyfish stings are rare, but possible. If you or your child is stung and has swelling or difficulty breathing, seek immediate medical attention.
Kids should be taught to avoid all types of jellyfish and to keep an eye out for them, but as long as they’re in the water, children run the risk of being stung. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science recommends the following:Gently rinse the area with salt water and remove tentacles with tweezers or gloves. Do not rinse vigorously or with fresh water, as this can cause additional nematocysts, the harpoon-like stingers, to discharge from the tentacles. Apply a paste of baking soda and water, which will deactivate remaining nematocysts. The VIMS does not recommend applying vinegar, alcohol, meat tenderizer or urine, as they have been shown to cause further irritation. Clean and dry the area, then apply a topical medication with benzocaine or lidocaine to provide pain relief.
Kids will likely react poorly to jellyfish stings because they hurt. Distraction works well in calming them down; give them an activity to busy themselves with. A popsicle doesn’t hurt, either.
As fun as it is to run full-speed into the ocean and dive in, it’s actually very dangerous. Spinal injuries are all too common at the beach, and children should be made aware of how to prevent them.
The United States Lifesaving Association urges swimmers to have a good look at the ocean before walking in, not running or diving, in order to be aware of their surroundings. Diving is only safe after one has become familiar with depth and, even then, dives should be slow and shallow.
Buckson said another time during which swimmers are vulnerable to injury is when exiting the water.
“Never turn your back on the waves when walking out,” he said. “Don’t try and run out, it’s going to catch you and knock you down. The waves can slam you into the sand.”
Instead, Buckson recommends facing the waves and diving shallowly through them as they come, moving inland until you are about knee-deep and safe from being knocked over.
The most obvious symptom of a spinal injury is paralysis, but other symptoms should cause you to seek immediate attention, including wounds, neck or back pain, difficulty breathing and numbness or tingling.
If you spot someone not moving in the water, the USLA recommends holding the person as still as possible while maintaining an airway until a lifeguard or other help comes. An injured person on shore should not be moved by anyone other than medical professionals.
It’s worth supplementing this information with a video so your kids understand the severe consequences of neck and spinal injuries. Beach spinal injury videos abound on Youtube.
“We haven’t had any yet this year,” Buckson said. “But they do happen and it’s very serious when they do.”