6 ways to stay safe at the beach this summer

From knowing your SPF to identifying a rip current, here are few tips for enjoying the sun and sea safely

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Staff Writer

Published June 29, 2024 9:15AM (EDT)

People stand by the sea at Bournemouth beach, on June 22, 2024 in Bournemouth, United Kingdom. Hotter weather is forecast at the start of next week, with temperatures reaching the mid-20s with potential heatwaves in some areas of central and southern England. (Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)
People stand by the sea at Bournemouth beach, on June 22, 2024 in Bournemouth, United Kingdom. Hotter weather is forecast at the start of next week, with temperatures reaching the mid-20s with potential heatwaves in some areas of central and southern England. (Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)

Summer has officially arrived, and with it comes a renewed interest in frequenting places of sand and surf. Growing up along the Jersey Shore, I learned how to "do" the beach from an early age. I know its unspoken rules of etiquette, like avoiding parking oneself too close to fellow beachgoers and keeping music at a respectful volume. Once the spring season turns, my weekends become synonymous with scavenging for seashells and quietly evaluating swells for the most suitable time to bodysurf. 

But as much as beaches are places of tranquility and enjoyment, they bring with them the potential for danger, as with any environment governed by the forces of nature.

As we find ourselves flocking to the shorelines nearest us this summer, it's useful to keep a set of tips for safety in mind. Whether you're trekking across hot sand alone with a Tommy Bahama folding chair strapped to your back, or attending with friends and family, here are a few ways you can keep yourself and those around you safe at the beach during these dog days. 

Wear sunscreen
This may seem fairly obvious, but in an age of prevailing misinformation, a reminder about the importance of protection from sun exposure is pivotal. A CNN report published June 21 indicated that social media influencers on TikTok are peddling false and potentially harmful information about the sun and sunscreen. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation, a scientifically proven carcinogen, can lead to cancers such as melanoma, badly burn the skin and hasten the skin's aging process.
While concerns about chemical-riddled sun protectants are valid, there is a spectrum of products to choose from with varying sun protection factors (SPF). Speaking to CNN, David Andrews, a senior scientist for the Environmental Working Group, said, “Mineral-based sunscreens are not absorbed into the skin and are better for the environment. There are many good, safe choices on the market that don’t leave a white cast on the skin.”
Know how to spot a rip current, and how to swim out of one
A recent spate of drownings in Florida is a grim reminder of the ocean's immense power. Even when a lifeguard is present, being an observant and aware swimmer can sometimes mean the difference between a life or death scenario. Rip currents, powerful, fast-moving and narrow flows of sea water, are common culprits behind ocean fatalities. 
Certain precautions can be taken to avoid ending up in a rip current, such as knowing how to identify them. "The best description that we can give is that it's an area where you don't see a lot of breaking waves, and don't see the white foamy water of a crashing wave. You actually see a lack of waves,” National Weather Service Community Engagement Lead Douglas Hilderbrand told TIME Magazine. Rip currents, which function as a sort of river that helps to funnel underwater debris, may also appear darker in color than the surrounding water. 
If you find yourself caught in a rip current, it is imperative to remain calm and avoid swimming against it toward the shoreline, so as to not exhaust yourself. Other than signaling to a lifeguard that you are in distress, the best course of action is to either swim parallel to the shore, float outward until the current ends, or propel themselves by riding a nearby wave. 
Firmly plant that umbrella!
Runaway umbrellas on a blustery beach day are something of a commonplace phenomenon. But a beach umbrella taking flight isn't merely a chore to chase down — it can pose a risk of injury to yourself or those around you, becoming a dangerous projectile in a matter of seconds. 
To properly secure your umbrella, choose a non-sloping section of partially wet sand — its firmer texture will help with stability. Make sure to bury the umbrella's post deep enough that it wont come loose when the first big — and inevitable — gust of wind passes through. Opting for a corkscrew-shaped sand anchor can also help to keep things in place.  
Beware of digging large holes
In February, a child tragically died when a hole she was digging at a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., beach collapsed on her and her brother, burying him up to his chest and covering her entirely, causing her to suffocate. NPR reported that around three to five children die in the United States each year when a sand hole they are digging at the beach or elsewhere collapses on top of them. In cases of survival, victims often require resuscitation. 
This harrowing instance complicates a traditionally favorite beach activity for kids, but it's important for parents to remain vigilant about the potential hazards that accompany playing in the sand, ensuring that holes do not get too deep. 
Stay hydrated
As rising temperatures due to the effects of global warming bring hotter summers and sometimes deadly heat waves, keeping yourself hydrated is critical. In addition to keeping an ample supply of water on hand, consuming sports drinks can help replace electrolytes lost to sweat from physical activity or simply sitting in the sun. 
Keep your belongings safe
Going to the beach alone can be infinitely relaxing, but what should you do with your phone, car keys and other valuable while you take a dip in the water? First, don't overpack. Keep things simple, using a nondescript bag, so as to not invite wandering eyes. Plan to set up shop near other people, detracting potential thieves from being seen rummaging through your belongings. 
Bringing along a waterproof pouch or a portable safe can also be useful. Or, you can always opt for the old-fashioned method of placing your items in a Ziploc bag and burying them under your towel.

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Gabriella Ferrigine is a staff writer at Salon. Originally from the Jersey Shore, she moved to New York City in 2016 to attend Columbia University, where she received her B.A. in English and M.A. in American Studies. Formerly a staff writer at NowThis News, she has an M.A. in Magazine Journalism from NYU and was previously a news fellow at Salon.

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Advice Beach List Rip Current Safety Sand Holes Sunscreen