Summer Beach Safety Tips

From sun to water safety, review these beach tips to keep your family healthy and happy before you chill out on the sand.


Summer means one thing for this California girl: Beach time! I pretty much lived at Santa Cruz beaches as a kid, swimming and boogie-boarding in the ocean, and acquiring some rocking tan lines. But I also learned early on the importance of beach and ocean safety—thanks to my dear old surfer dad. Severe sunburns, heat stroke and swimming accidents are a reality, but they are also easy to avoid.

As your family heads to the beach this summer—whether for a day trip, or a weeklong vacation—review these safety tips to ensure a fun, safe, sandy adventure.

Safety Precautions for Beach Lovers of All Ages

The first lesson I learned from my dad: Never turn your back on the ocean. Waves form quickly and can catch you by surprise. Beach safety experts agree and offer these additional precautionary tips:

Learn to swim before heading to the beach: It saves lives. If your kids aren’t strong swimmers or are just learning how to swim, make sure they stay close to shore.

Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen! Reapply often, and use broad-spectrum lotion that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Young children require a higher SPF sunscreen than adults because their skin is actually thinner and more susceptible to UV rays. According to Safe Travel, a U.K.–based Web site, children can get burned in less than 10 minutes of sun exposure. Apply lotion 15 to 30 minutes before heading outside for optimal absorption. Other sun-protective measures: wear a hat and sunglasses.

Actively supervise your children at all times: According to the Aquatic Safety Research Group (ASRG), “the number-one problem at beaches is lost children.” ASRG suggests families create a ‘beach plan’: “Know where you entered the beach, where you will place your blanket, and where you will meet if and when you become separated.”

Only swim where a lifeguard is present: The United States Lifesaving Association says that swimming near a lifeguard lowers your chance of drowning to 1 in 18 million.

Never swim alone—even if you’re a strong swimmer.

Don’t dive head first into the ocean. Murky, sandy water can obscure underwater obstacles in the shallows. Protect your neck by always entering the ocean feet first.

Avoid alcohol: It not only inhibits judgment, it accelerates dehydration, too.

Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water regularly.

Obey all hazard flags and directions from lifeguards: See Safety Flags image for flag meanings.

Don’t “Pretend Drown”: If you’ve been blessed (or cursed) with a young practical joker in your family, don’t allow them to pretend to drown. Lifeguards will likely take the threat seriously and could be turning their attention away from those truly in need.

Watch out for broken glass. Wear shoes if you go for a walk on the beach, or on a wooden boardwalk, notorious for rusty nails and splinters. Also, don’t contribute hazardous beach litter—leave glass bottles at home.

If going out on a boat, always wear a life jacket.

Beware of rip currents: Ask a lifeguard if there are rip currents at your swimming location.

On escaping rip currents: Rip currents are powerful channels of water that flow perpendicular from the beach; they can sweep swimmers far from the shore. The National Weather Service explains it this way: “Think of it like a treadmill that cannot be turned off, which you need to step to the side of” to disembark.

To get out of a rip current:

  • Remain calm.
  • DON’T fight the current.
  • Swim parallel to the shore: rips are usually narrow; swim left or right until you no longer feel the current. Then swim to shore.

Blue Flag Beaches

If your family is heading to an international beach this summer, Blue Flag can help you find a safe beach. A program by the Foundation for Environmental Education, Blue Flag has awarded eco-labels to more than 3,300 beaches and marinas around the world, from the Caribbean to New Zealand. Blue Flag beaches adhere to strict environmental criteria; in short, they provide: environmental education programs, notifications about eco-sensitive areas, regular water quality testing, adequate lifeguards and beach accessibility. To see complete criteria list and to find a Blue Flag beach, go to

Safety Specifics

Sun Protection for Kids

While it’s very important to slather the kids with sunscreen, more important is to take other sun-shielding precautions. Experts say that sunscreen should come after other protective measures: staying in the shade between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. when the sun’s rays are strongest, wearing shirts and wide-brim hats, and wearing sunglasses. They also recommend that at a minimum use sunscreens with at least SPF 15 for children. SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of harmful rays; SPF 30 blocks 96 percent. Higher SPFs do not double your protection. The Skin Cancer Foundation says that infants under six months should stay away from the sun entirely.

Relieving Sunburn

When healing from sunburn, remember to stay out of the sun while it heals. Here are some other tips for treating young children:

  • Apply cool compresses or take a cool shower to help extract the heat.
  • Aloe vera gel (make sure it’s pure): Apply it liberally to affected areas. It’s cool and soothing, and speeds up healing.
  • For severe burns, apply hydrocortisone cream.
  • When the burn peels, don’t scratch it! The sensitive skin beneath is tender and vulnerable to infection.

Identifying Heat Stroke

Heat stroke and heat stress occur when the body’s temperature control system shuts down and the body heats up rapidly. Children are much more susceptible to heat stroke than adults, though heat stroke is a serious, life threatening ailment that kills more than 20 percent of sufferers. Common characteristics of heat stroke include:

  • Hot, red, dry skin (with heat exhaustion, moist, clammy skin can occur)
  • Wavering consciousness
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Erratic pulse: fast or slow

To treat:

  • Call 9-1-1
  • Keep person laying down, move to a shady location
  • Using ice packs, or wet towels, to cool parts of the body near large blood vessels: armpits, wrists, neck and ankles.

Creepers, Crawlers and Biters

Biting and stinging insects are everywhere but tend to swarm in hotter, muggier climates, swamps or wooded areas. At the beach, avoid these unwelcome visitors (especially bees) by covering food and drinks, not wearing perfume, and wearing protective clothing and bug repellents. There are also several sunscreen/insect repellent combinations: Sawyer Sunblock with Insect Repellent, and Avon’s Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus have SPF 30 and are effective bug repellents.

Treatment for bites and stings:
Ibuprofen: anti-inflammatory treatment
Hydrocortisone cream 1 percent: relieves itching and swelling
Xylocaine gel 2 percent: relieves itching and pain
For stings: remove stinger if possible, apply anti-bacterial ointment to prevent infection.

Themes: Beach Vacations, Family Travel

Activities: Swimming

User Comments

Top 10 Sun Safety Tips Hey Nicole, Great post with lots of useful information. As a fellow UofO Duck Jschool alum, I see that you, too, returned to your hometown, sunshire state. We didn't need a lot of sunscreen in Eugene! I wrote a post on my blog "Don't let the sun go down on me" that included Top 10 Sun Safety Tips. Feel free to link to it if you think Travelmuse readers might benefit from additional tips.

Great advice Wow, what an all-inclusive article. I easily forget many of these tips when faced with a cloud-free day and the endless ocean and forget how dangerous the beach can be. Any advice on beach-neighbor etiquette?

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