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Beach and Ocean Safety Tips

Carolina Beach, NC
 If you're going to the beach with your significant other or kids this summer, here are some safety tips to keep in mind.
  • Remember that swimming in the ocean is different from swimming in a pool. In a pool, you don't have to deal with undertows or rip currents (also called riptides). Basically, these are currents that occur when waves pull back into the ocean. Undertows do exactly that-drag the water down as it pulls back into the ocean. Rip tides tend to develop around fixed objects such as piers, which is why these areas are often designated as 'no swimming' areas. In addition to the risk or being pulled out farther into the ocean than you intended, it's also not difficult to hit underwater rocks or reefs that help anchor the pier into the ground. If you do find yourself caught up in one of these currents, swim parallel to shore until you no longer feel the current, then swim ashore. Someone who is not a strong swimmer should probably stay closer to the shore.
  • Be mindful of sea life. I'm not just talking about littering or pollution when I say this. You probably won't run into any sharks (although it has happened as erosion gets worse), but jellyfish are pretty common near the shore. Since they are translucent, it's not hard to mistake them for something else or to miss them entirely. They won't bite, but they sting! Even the dead ones washed up on the shore can sting you because the 'substance' is all over their bodies. Kids might be tempted to prod them with sticks, but they should leave them alone. This goes for dogs too, as they tend to eat whatever doesn't move. Also, it's not uncommon in some places for stingrays to come closer to the shore at certain times of the day or year. While neither a jellyfish nor stingray will kill you (in most cases), you still don't want to be anywhere near them. If your kids are curious about them, take them to an aquarium!
  • Look for a lifeguard or any signs that give advice or warnings. For instance, there is one area where I grew up that is permanently designated as a 'no-swim' area because the undertow is so strong that even a strong swimmer can be dragged under and easily drown. If you do not see a lifeguard, make sure you and/or your kids let someone know before going out into the ocean and stay within the view of the shore.
And now, for what might seem obvious:
  • Obey all advisories. Basically, if the Coast Guard or local authorities tell you not to go in the ocean, don't go in the ocean! Yes, the waves are stronger during a hurricane, but so is the undertow, wind, flying debris, etc. This isn't even considering the fact that hurricanes and similar storms can bring a larger-than-normal number of jellyfish up onto the shore! Despite being told about this several times, there are still a number of deaths each year from people trying to surf or swim during a hurricane.

Hopefully I've given you some ideas about how to stay safe at the beach. If you can, try an internet search to see if there are any advisories or current tide tables available for the particular place you are visiting. Good luck and have fun!

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