We rarely think the water can suddenly pull us away from the shore. Or that we’ve sat out in the sun that long. And let’s face it – it’s hard to tell the difference between those colored flags, especially when there isn’t a lifeguard nearby to help interpret them.
The problem is that these hidden dangers are present more often than we realize when we head to a public beach. Fortunately, if we can point them out here and remind you and your family of them, we can keep a day at the beach a whole lot safer. And if you do run into problems out there, we’ve got several remedies for complete beach safety you can follow there too.
What you need to know about rip currents is that they’re not unique to our oceans alone – that’s a misconception. They can occur right on Oak Street Beach or many other places around Chicago and Lake Michigan. They can also happen on a sunny day as much as a day with poor weather. You may be able to recognize a rip current by looking for choppy water that has a notable difference in water color near the shallow areas of the beach. A rip current is a powerful channel of water that flows outward from the shore, causing swimmers to be pulled out even further into the water.
Don’t ignore the presence of rip currents by saying, “Oh, I’m a good swimmer. I know what I’m doing.” The reality is that great swimmers have fallen victim to rip currents because they made a key mistake – they swam against the current rather than swimming horizontally and then diagonally toward the shore. If you do get caught in a rip current, the key is not to panic, leading you to swim against the current with all your might. Let the current carry you if necessary for a bit and then wave your arms to show you’re in trouble and need help. Continue to swim at an angle and not directly against the current.
What if you spot someone in the water who appears to need help? Don’t rush out there to save them! That’s your inclination but you be caught in the rip current too, which absolutely does nobody any good. Instead, look for a lifeguard nearby who can help. If one isn’t nearby, have someone call 9-1-1 for further assistance. While time is of the essence, look for a flotation device that the rip current victim may be able to grab onto, but remember, don’t go so far out into the current that you get pulled in too.
It’s tempting to head out to the beach in the late morning and early afternoon to absorb the sun’s rays and work on a great tan. However, at the same time, you’ll be left exposed to the sun’s UV rays at a time when they’re at their strongest. That can easily lead to sunburn quicker than you might expect.
Now, one of the biggest mistakes that sunbathers make is believing they can slather on a sunscreen of SPF 50 and stay out in the sun as long as they like. Not true. You still need to reapply that sunscreen on a regular basis, wear a hat with a wider brim, put on sunglasses and be smart about retreating to an area of ample shade.
The danger of sunburn escalates when it’s not only painful with redness and blisters – evidence of first and second-degree burns that warrant healing ointments or creams – but if you experience other symptoms with the burn. When chills and fever are present, it’s time to seek medical attention as you may have a more serious condition. If you’re witnessing someone acting confused or dizzy, exhibiting pale skin or complaining of muscle cramps or headache, move that person to a cool area immediately, keep them hydrated with water if they are fully conscious and contact your local medical authorities.
They’re there for a reason – a warning system that indicates the level of risk and danger present based on the day’s wave conditions.
Red – The highest level of caution, a red flag indicates a severe risk to all swimmers as there may be rip currents, high surf or another risk factor that makes entering the water a no-go for most swimmers. If there are two red flags or one red flag with the image of a swimmer with a white line through it, swimming is prohibited to all.
Blue / Purple – Also a very important caution flag, a blue or purple flag will indicate that a threatening form of marine life has been spotted such as a shark or jellyfish. It may not mean that you’re prohibited from swimming – check with a lifeguard to make sure – but it certainly indicates that your swimming activities must be accompanied with a watchful eye at all times on the water so you can be ready to pull yourself or others quickly out of the water.
Yellow – Just as you’d want to slow down for a yellow traffic signal while driving, the yellow flag by the beach is communicating that you should slow down and exercise caution because the wave conditions that day are particularly challenging and rough. It may not involve rip current-like waves but you will need to ensure your children are not paddling out too far from the shore. For younger kids, life jackets are a must in these conditions.
Green – The flag you want to see most! A green flag means it’s a safe day to swim and there is less risk in the waters. However, this doesn’t mean to take your eyes off of your kids and others who may need your help due to a sudden change in the water. Stay vigilant.
The real danger associated with drowning is that you’re not likely to hear someone yell, “Help! Help! I’m drowning!” Instead, the drowning victim is going to be lower in the water, head tilted back, mouth open, showing signs of gasping or floating face down.
The first way you can act to see if the person is genuinely in trouble is to call out to them. “Do you need help? Hey! Are you OK?” No response? Take action. If a lifeguard is nearby, alert them to the person in need. If a lifeguard isn’t present, tell the closest person nearby to call 9-1-1. One mistake that’s frequently made at this point is to swim out to the drowning victim without anything else. It’s particularly risky because the victim could flail their arms and legs in a panic, now putting you at increased risk of drowning. Take a floatation device such as an inner tube or life jacket you can toss to the person if they’re semi-conscious and pull them in. You’ll be going a long way toward saving them while protecting your own safety in the water.
On the topic of beach safety, sharks get a lot of the “press” here for well-publicized attacks but they aren’t terribly frequent. The underrated danger comes from coral, jellyfish, crabs and the sharp shells of mussels and clams. If you’re walking out on the water, keep an eye out for these hazards that could cut your feet or, in the case of the jellyfish, cause a highly painful sting.
If you suspect that you’ve just been stung by a jellyfish, the best course of action is to exit the water, rinse the affected area with vinegar and use a pair of tweezer to remove the tentacles. You can soak the area in hot water for up to 45 minutes. From there, use a hydrocortisone cream to treat the swelling. A sting that’s located near the eyes should be seen by a medical professional immediately.
For cuts and bruises caused by marine life with scaly exteriors, get them properly treated with antiseptic and bandages via a kit like our portable first aid kit that you can store in your vehicle and take right with you to the beach. From eyewash to ice packs to tweezers, it’s a winner for minor treatment with no waiting.
Chances are, your day at the beach will be exactly that – a fun-filled experience where you can kick back and relax. But failure to take any safety precautions can have an impact that lasts well beyond the day. Talk to SOS Technologies today about beach safety so you can prepare for better outcomes when you least expect it, including CPR training and first aid supplies, at 888.705.6100.