Holiday & Seasonal

Beach and Surf Safety

While the beach can be a fun and relaxing place to enjoy your summer, it is important to also respect the power of the sea. Drowning is the third leading cause of accidental death in the United States, killing nearly 5,000 people each year.

"For children 1- to 2-years old, drowning is the leading cause of injury death," said Arlen Stauffer, MD, of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). "It has been found that for every ten children who drown, 140 are treated in emergency departments due to near-drowning incidents, and 36 are admitted for further treatment in hospitals."

While you should keep in mind different beaches have different dangers, ACEP offers the following practical tips to keep you safe on both the sand and in the surf.

  • Always swim near a lifeguard tower and never swim alone.

  • Wear sunscreen, with at least a level 15 sun protection factor, to protect against burns.

  • Check with lifeguards about surf and beach conditions before going in the water. Obey warning signs in dangerous areas.

  • Don't overestimate your swimming ability. Never depend on flotation devices for your safety.

  • Never drink alcohol and swim.

  • Always swim or surf in designated areas.

  • Stay away from cliff edges-stay behind fences and obey warning signs.

  • Never run and dive in the water. Even if you have checked before-conditions can change.

"Every summer, emergency physicians see serious spinal injuries, including quadriplegia, because people dive headfirst into unknown water and strike the bottom," said Stauffer. "Another major cause of neck injuries is bodysurfing. It is caused when the swimmer's head or face strikes the bottom of the ocean. So check for depth and obstructions before diving, then go in feet first the first time; and use caution while bodysurfing, always extending a hand ahead of you."

  • Swim parallel to the shore if you want to swim long distances.

  • Wear shoes or sandals on the beach to avoid broken glass.

  • If you hear thunder, get out of the water immediately. Seek shelter in a building or automobile. If no shelter is available, find the lowest spot possible and avoid open spaces. Don't sit under an umbrella and stay away from metal objects like aluminum chairs.

  • If you get into trouble in the water, don't panic. Raise and wave your arm for help, float and wait for assistance.

Rip tides are the cause of many drownings and beach rescues each year. Rips are dangerous because they can carry a swimmer out into deep water. If you are caught in a rip:

  • Don't Panic-stay calm.

  • Don't fight the rip. Swim parallel to the shore until you are free of the out-rushing water. Then swim back to shore or signal for help.

  • Remember to stay calm and conserve your energy. If you become weak or tired, float with the rip current instead of fighting it, and signal for help.

For more information on injury prevention, visit ACEP online at

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