How to Stay Safe at the Beach

A day at the beach is one of the most enjoyable experiences you can have. Whether it be by yourself, with family or friends, there is nothing better than enjoying the UK coastline. However, when you deal with mother nature, there are always hazards to be aware of. In this article we aim to inform you of potential hazards and help to minimise risk when enjoying a nice day at the beach.

As a family we enjoy setting up a beach tent for the day to enjoy a picnic with friends. When the food is over we head into the water for a surf, swim or bodyboard. This means taking my little nippers (4 and 6) into the water. At this point I always keep in mind the following things so that everyone is safe at the beach.

Use a Lifeguarded Beach

Myself and my wife are strong swimmers and experienced surfers, yet a day at the beach with the family will always be to a beach that has a lifeguard. There are multiple reasons for this.

Lifeguards are trained to keep people safe in the water. They will make judgement calls based on years of experience. This helps you to relax, as you know the water is constantly being monitored. Why take needless risks on things such as rip tides, when trained professionals can do it for you.

Another benefit to a lifeguarded beach is that they can give emergency aid. God forbid anything bad happened to loved one, you have trained professionals who can give first aid and call for rescue should you need it.

If you were to have difficulty in the water, you have a better chance of rescue at a lifeguarded beach. The lifeguards have access to boats, jet ski’s, paddle boards etc to head straight into the water to help rescue people. If you don’t use a lifeguarded beach, the extra time it would take to try and find a missing person could be the difference between life and death.

Stay Between The Flags

Now to stay between the flags, it probably helps if you know what they mean. As a surfer I will alert you to my favourite ones first.

Black and white chequered flags – If you are between these two flags you should be on a surfboard, stand up paddleboard (SUP), kayak or other non-powered device. This area should be free of swimmers and bodyboarders. 

Bodyboarders in between the black and white flags is a pet peeve of mine as someone can end up being hurt. A surfer should not need to look out for swimmers. These areas are dangerous enough with the high number of surfers in the water, they will not appreciate seeing a swimmer or bodyboarder in between these flags.

Red and Yellow Flags – This is your best place to go swimming at the beach as you are overlooked by lifeguards. It’s also the best place to use a bodyboard or inflatable.

Red Flag – The saying “There were a few red flags on our first date” is kind of relevant in this description. The red flags are to highlight danger. If you see a red flag at the beach, stay out of the water as it will not be safe.

Know your limits

The ocean is a brilliant place to be, but make sure you swim and surf within your own ability level. Just because you can swim well in a swimming pool does not mean you will thrive when in a choppy sea.

I have years of surfing experience. In Australia I would paddle for up to 30 minutes to reach an off-shore reef. This is because I was comfortable at paddling long distances. I also had people who knew my location and had a return time logged. Now while this is not something I’d advise, I was within my limits.

A novice surfer needs to know they can get back to shore safely, so don’t go too far outback.

A weak swimmer should not be swimming long distances away from the shoreline. If you want to increase swim stamina then swim along the shore rather than away from it, at least until you know you can swim for long periods of time without stopping. This is vital in keeping you safe at the beach.

Avoid Rips and Strong Currents

See the first point if you want to avoid getting caught in a rip, as the lifeguards will be able to notice one forming and then act for you. 

A rip current is a strong current that is capable of dragging you away from the shore. They form when a narrow fast moving section of water travels offshore (out to sea). A rip current might not seem too bad at first, but paddling against one is exhausting. 

If you have a floatation device and get caught in a rip, always stay on this as it is your life line. Call for help if there are people around or try to signal for help by waving your arms.

The strength of the rip will weaken eventually. If it does, find a section of water away from the rip and swim back to shore.

Give a Timed Return

If the film 127 Hours taught me one thing, it’s that you need to give a time that you will be back from your expedition.

If you head into the water, get yourself a surf watch or a waterproof phone case so that you can keep time. This is really helpful as it means you know how long you’ve been out and what time you agreed to be back for.

If someone on the beach or at home knows that you should be gone for two hours, they can alert lifeguards when it gets to a point where it looks like you could be in trouble. Now, I’m not saying you should call for a missing person after 5 minutes, but you get the picture.

watch for in the water surfing

Buoyancy Aids

If you have young children, then a buoyancy aid is essential. Really kids who are not able to look after themselves in the water should only be in the shallows. 

However, a rip can form at any time, so always have an eye on them. A good buoyancy aid will at least keep them afloat if any issues did occur.

If your child did go missing at the beach, alert the lifeguards and notify people around you of their name and clothes they were wearing. This is helpful as it might be the case they’ve just wondered out of sight.

Wear Sunscreen

The UK beaches in the summer time are a great place to people watch. The amount of sunburn on show is outrageous. It’s almost like people decided that they don’t like their skin, so they are going to punish it by burning it.

It’s dangerous to your long term health and painful in the short term. If you are swimming in the sea, the reflection of light adds to the strength of the UV rays so burning becomes much more likely.

Our advice is to find a strong sun cream that is at least 30+SPF if you want to stay safe at the beach this summer.

Wear a sunhat and sunglasses. If in the water, a rash vest is a great idea as it gives SPF protection.

At the beach shade is hard to find so why not invest in a beach tent? It will provide shade for kids and yourself. It also helps to keep your food and drink safer and cooler.

Be Aware of Tides

People are always amazed at how much the tide moves in and out. I spent a Summer living in Crantock. At low tide I could walk from Crantock to Newquay as the water would be low enough to get across the estuary. This was brilliant as it saved me lots of time and meant I didn’t need to drive.

When the tide was in however, there was not chance I could have walked. In fact on some beaches a rising tide can leave you stranded and cut off.

When you head to a beach make sure you look for local warnings about tides. A good surf watch will give you the tide information, but you can also get this off the internet.

If you did find yourself cut off by the tide make sure you contact 999 and ask for the coastguard.

coastguard beach rescue

Our Final Thoughts

The beach is something to enjoy. This information is hopefully helpful and in some cases common sense. We don’t want to put you off enjoying the water as it’s the best place in the world to be. Just make sure you stay safe when at the beach, especially with little ones who might not know any better.