Injury Prevention, Prevention

12 Tips for Beach Safety: Safe Fun in the Sun, Sand and Sea from Pediatricians

Tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics

Color photo of an infant underwater in a swimming pool. Child is gliding along silently - mouth is closed and baby looks into the distance. Excellent demonstration of the natural ability of newborn to six month olds to hold their breath underwater.

ITASCA, IL–When the weather’s nice, many families love spending time near the water. Whether your favorite spot is near the ocean or the edge of a river or lake, it’s always best to prepare for your surroundings and make sure that health hazards don’t spoil your good time.

“I encourage families to look for beaches where lifeguards are on duty and watch for any postings about water quality, rip currents or shore break, which can make swimming and water unsafe,” said Dr. Lois Lee, a pediatric emergency medicine physician. “It’s always important to designate an adult as a water-watcher to keep an eye on children playing in or near the water at all times. Also, sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen. You’ll want to apply every two hours at minimum or more often after children come out of the water.”

Here are 12 tips for families to enjoy a safe and fun outdoors experience for everyone:

  1. Check the water temperature. Generally, water between 82° F and 86° F (28° C to 30 C°) will be safe and comfortable for young swimmers. Scan the sand. Before spreading out your beach blanket, look for debris that may have washed up, including sharp sticks, bottles or even jellyfish. 
  2. Watch for sand holes. Making sandcastles and sculptures can be a blast. But the hole your child digs in the sand should never be deeper than their own knee. Children can fall in and get trapped and buried in the sand. This can even lead to suffocation and death. Have kids dig where you can watch them—and don’t allow digging in sand dunes, where loose sand can collapse around them. For everyone’s safety, always fill the holes your crew digs before you leave. Sometimes holes that children can fall into aren’t always obvious or clearly visible.
  3. Lightning strikes pose real dangers, so when you hear that familiar rumble, head indoors. The safest place during a thunderstorm is a substantial building or a hard-topped vehicle. Wait at least 30 minutes after the storm passes before heading back to the beach.
  4. Teach kids to respect the water. At the seaside or lake, they should always face the water so they can see new waves coming in. Teach them to wade in feet-first so they can check the water’s temperature and depth. Make sure they never dive or jump from high points such as a bridge, boat or dock, where shallow depths or underwater debris can cause serious head and spine injuries.
  5. Appoint a water watcher. This should be an adult with good swimming skills who keeps a consistent eye on the water and shoreline. When it’s your turn, put away your smartphone, book or any other distractions, and skip the alcohol to help you stay alert. If you’re in a large group, choose more than one watcher to rotate duties.
  6. Small childrenand those without strong swimming skills should wear a certified life jacket in or near the water, the Red Cross says. Families should also don certified life jackets whenever they’re boating, paddling, waterskiing or skimming along on jet skis.
  7. Require adult permission before kids go in any kind of water.Make sure they always check in with a parent or trusted adult before entering the water.
  8. Use the buddy system. For young children, this means having an adult beside them whenever they’re in the water, keeping one hand on them while they float, paddle or play–touch supervision. As kids gain water safety skills and show they can be trusted to stick together) they can swim and splash in groups. The forever-and-always rule is that no one goes in the water alone.
  9. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen labeled SPF 30 or higher.Mineral sunscreens can be especially effective. Put sunscreen on at least 30 minutes before hitting the beach, using the equivalent of a full shot glass to protect your child. (Don’t forget the tops of feet, hands and ears.) Reapply every 2 hours or right after your child leaves the water, since no sunscreen is 100% waterproof or sweatproof.
  10.  Sunscreen often causes skin reactions in babies under 6 months, so it’s best to protect little ones with a wide-brimmed hat and lightweight clothing that covers their arms and legs. Stake out a shady spot where they can play or nap safely. And try to keep them out of the sun in the middle of the day when UV rays are the strongest (between 10am-4pm).
  11. Rash guards, long-sleeved tops and other beachwear offer extra protection for toddlers and older kids, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when UV rays are strongest. You may also want to shield feet with water shoes, flip flops or sneakers on very hot days, since the sand’s surface can climb as high as 100° F (38° C).
  12. Keep everyone cool and hydrated. Avoid heat illness by having plenty of water on hand, offering children frequent sips and calling for occasional shade breaks. If you use a beach umbrella, be sure it is anchored securely in the sand. Umbrellas that fly away in the wind have caused serious injuries.

A video that discusses ways to keep young children safe near water is here.

“Whether you’re at the beach or a pool, families want to have fun and these precautions can prevent injuries and drowning,” Dr. Lee said. “Ask your pediatrician if you have any questions or concerns about safety during an upcoming outing or vacation in the sun and water.”

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