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Are You Beach-Ready? Get Essential Summer Safety Tips

Heading to the beach on a warm, sunny day is a favorite pastime for many American families. To ensure that your trip lives up to expectations, you may want to be sure you remember these summer safety tips to save you and your family from burns, injuries or mishaps in the water.

Water safety

Good swimming abilities are key in preventing accidents. Most community and recreation centers offer swimming lessons, so it may be a good idea to take advantage of these to ensure that your kids—and perhaps even you and your partner—are able to safely navigate the waters.

Remember that swimming in currents and waves at the shore can be much harder than swimming in a pool, and conditions can change quickly. Even the strongest swimmer can run into problems when rip currents are present. A rip current is a narrow, powerful current of water that runs perpendicular to the shore, out toward the sea. You may not know a rip current is there, until you get caught in it. If that occurs, don't panic. Your instinct may be to try to swim against the current back toward shore, but that will likely only wear you out. Instead, swim sideways, parallel to the shore. A rip current is usually no more than 30 feet wide, so you will be able to swim out of it to the side, and then the waves can help carry you back to the beach.

It's also a good idea to swim at a beach with lifeguards and to heed any warning flags or signs that they put up. Be sure your kids know not to swim past buoys or markers that indicate turbulent waters or other dangers.

Finally, kids and weak swimmers should use a Coast Guard-approved flotation device, such as a lifejacket. Don't rely on body boards, noodles or inner tubes to protect you or your children from drowning.

Whether in the ocean or at a lake or pool, be aware of recreational water illnesses. They can be spread by swallowing, breathing or coming into contact with contaminated water. Avoid swimming in the ocean for at least 24 hours after heavy rains, especially if you're in a densely populated area. Storm-water runoff from the streets and drainage areas may pollute the water.

You may want to check beach advisories before heading out. They may indicate that you should choose another day to enjoy fun in the sun.

Don't get burned

The most common hazard of going to the beach, besides sandy toes, is sunburn. As you probably know, getting burned by UV rays increases your risk of skin cancer.

For this reason, you should try to avoid the sun's peak hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. When you do go out, be sure there's enough sunscreen to go around, and that everyone's using it. Liberally apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen of at least SPF 15 about 30 minutes before going out. Reapply every two hours or after going in the water or other physical activity.

Additionally, hats and loose-fitting, tightly-woven clothing can offer additional sun protection. Protect your family's eyes by making sure everyone wears sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays.

Some final things to remember

It may not be in the forefront of your mind, but glass, debris and jellyfish are beach hazards that you can easily prepare for.

First, be sure that everyone has a pair of beach shoes. These may also prevent slipping on rocks or getting cut by jagged formations underwater. Additionally, before setting up your towels and blankets, survey the area, looking for anything might pose a danger.

If someone gets stung by a jellyfish, first asses the severity of the sting. If the person appears to be having a severe or systemic reaction, seek immediate emergency help. Most jellyfish stings can be treated by home remedies. First, remove any pieces of tentacle still on the skin by washing with seawater and scraping gently with a credit card or similar hard surface (not your hands or a towel, which can cause the discharge of more venom). Deactivate most stingers by generously rinsing with vinegar for at least 30 seconds. Sea nettles and Portuguese man-of-war stingers may be deactivated using a paste of baking soda and seawater. For relief of pain or irritation after the sting is treated, try soaking in tolerably hot water for 20 minutes. Calamine lotion or lidocaine ointment may relieve some itching and pain.

If you're going to a crowded area, it may be a good idea to devise an emergency plan in case someone gets lost. Establishing a meeting space and giving the kids a cell phone may help ensure everyone returns home safely.

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