5 tips to kick off summer at the beach safely

Baltimore Sun reporter

It's the first day of summer, so a long beach weekend must surely be in sight. The sun, sand and sea are a volatile mix - so it's important to keep safety in mind for the season. To kick things off, I asked Ocean City Beach Patrol Captain Butch Arbin (think chief of police, but for the beach) to pass along some beach safety tips. Arbin, who has been a part of the beach patrol for 40 years, said there are precautions you can take - things that could affect people's lives. So head out for summer vacation and make sure you keep these five safety tips in mind when you visit Ocean City:

1. Stay close to the lifeguards. Arbin said the biggest problem they see is people swimming when lifeguards are off duty. He said for the past three summers Ocean City has had drownings linked to swimmers going into the ocean without a lifeguard present. He said that the beach patrol is great at preventing drowning while on duty, but there isn't anything they can do if they aren't there. "Memorial Day weekend this year we had 70-some rescues, where if we had not been around, there would have been nobody to come get them," Arbin said.

The best advice? Trust the beach patrol. Always wait for a guard to get on stand before getting in the water. Listen to them when they make announcements, move where they ask you to move, and please, please get off the beach when they tell you to during thunderstorms. And make sure your kids know who the lifeguard is, so they can identify them in an emergency.

Arbin said swimming while a lifeguard is on duty also prevents drownings caused by rip currents. Rip currents are narrow surf-zone currents with water moving rapidly away from the beach. Arbin said rip currents are one of the leading causes of weather related deaths- each year they kill more people than tornados. If you get caught in a rip current, swim parallel to the shore. Don't try to fight the current. And if you have any questions about rip current activity or which places are safe to swim, ask a lifeguard.

2. You can't dig to China. Digging holes on the beach isn't prohibited, but it is only allowed at the lifeguard's discretion. The beach patrol suggests, and may enforce, that any holes you dig only go up to the knees of the smallest person close by. Holes can collapse on kids, and have in the past. Arbin said children have been seriously hurt on the beach in Ocean City from holes collapsing on them. So, make sure you dig for buried treasure carefully and shallowly.

3. No diving. Arbin said each summer the patrol sees about 100 neck and back injuries. Swimmers often dive into the ocean close to the shore not realizing how shallow it is. Swimmers also risk a spinal injury when body boarding and body surfing, by riding the shore break in shallow water. They can ride the wave into the beach, and end up hitting the beach head-on. The beach patrol suggests catching waves a safe distance away from shallow water, and exiting the wave before it gets too close to shore. If you're on a body board and need to bail, do it off the back of the board.

4. Don't bake. The most common injury that occurs on the beach is sunburn. Obvious, yes, and also easily avoidable. The beach patrol suggests applying an SPF of 30 or higher 30 minutes before you go out, and then reapply every two hours.

5. Keep yourself hydrated. Drinking plenty of fluids with high water content is a good way to avoid heat illness. Look for signs of heat sickness, including nausea, cramps, dizziness and weakness. Another good way to avoid getting overheated? Don't drink alcohol or too much caffeine before coming to the beach. Both will increase your risk of heat illness. And having alcohol on the beach is illegal.


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