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Our top tips for a fun (and safe) day at the beach this summer

Family members at the beach

Here are some ways to keep your family out of harm’s way in the sun, sand and water.

Sunshine, sparkling waves, white sand: It’s a picture-postcard day at the beach. And it’s a perfect setting to relax and have fun with friends and family. That said, there’s a few hidden dangers you’ll want to watch out for to keep everyone safe.

“I think we have a certain level of comfort at the shore,” says Jay W. Lee, MD. He’s a family doctor in Costa Mesa, California. “And definitely from a mental health perspective, being at the beach can be so great for folks.” But it’s smart to take a few precautions.

Before you head out to the beach, make sure you’re ready. Pack your beach bag with all the essentials you need for a perfect summer day that’s both fun and safe. A little planning can go a long way.

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1. Bring sunscreen (and reapply often)

Too much sun could put a pause on your fun. Sunscreen helps protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. It’s recommended to apply sunscreen every two hours. You’ll also want to put on more after you’ve been sweating or swimming. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends using a product with an SPF of 30 or higher.1

Kids need sunscreen too. But it’s not recommended for babies under 6 months old, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Keep babies safe by staying out of the sun during midday. And cover them in protective clothing if they must be in the sun.4

Nobody wants to come home looking like a lobster. And sunburn can also cause pain, blistering and shedding skin, says Dr. Lee.

A bad sunburn could mean bigger trouble down the road, too. Having five or more sunburns over your lifetime doubles your risk of getting skin cancer.2

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2. Wear a hat and sunglasses

A wide-brimmed hat and a pair of sunglasses can be a great fashion statement. They’re also a smart way to get some extra protection from the sun. The hat shields your face, the tops of your ears and your scalp. Go for sunglasses that wrap around your face for an extra dose of protection. You’ll want to seek out lenses that offer ultraviolet (UV) blocking protection on their label.3

3. Throw some shade

It’s a good idea to pack a beach umbrella. Check out your shadow from time to time. When it looks shorter than you, grab a shady spot under the umbrella. That short shadow means the sun is directly overhead, where its rays are strongest.3 The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 am and 2 pm so be sure to stay in the shade during those times. Beach umbrellas can help reduce exposure to some of the sun’s harmful UV rays.4 But you still need to wear sunscreen especially since the sun’s rays can reflect off water and sand.4

4. Keep your food cold

Snacking throughout the day? Grilling up a feast? Don’t let germs join the party. Make sure foods such as meat or dairy stay cool until you’re ready to eat. Here’s how:7

  • Pack cold foods in an insulated cooler with plenty of ice, frozen gel packs or another cold source. Keep the cooler in the shade and cover it with a blanket or towel to keep it cool.
  • Put an appliance thermometer in the cooler to keep an eye on the temperature. Cold foods should be kept below 40 degrees.
  • Try not to open the lid very often. The more the cooler is opened, the faster it will warm up.
  • Use a separate cooler for drinks and food.
  • Toss any perishable foods that have been above 40 degrees for 2 hours or more. On a hot day (above 90 degrees), foods can spoil even faster. Toss foods that have been in the sun for just 1 hour or more.

5. Read the signs

Look for safety signs when you enter a beach area. They may warn of nearby threats, such as dangerous riptides. You’ll also want to pay attention to flags near the lifeguard’s stand. A green flag means the water is safe or low risk. Other colors may tell you that the waves are dangerous or if the water quality is a concern. Colors can vary from beach to beach, and signs are not used in all areas, so ask a lifeguard for more info.5

But don’t rely completely on signage or on the lifeguard. You’ll want to keep a close eye on kids and any other vulnerable family members while they’re in the water. That’s because more children between the ages of 1 and 4 die of drowning than from any other cause.13 A great first step: making sure your kids take swimming lessons. And you can always brush up on your own swimming skills, too.

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6. Look before you leap

Diving accidents are the fifth most common cause of spinal cord injuries in the United States. They affected more than 2,000 people in 2021.8 So, to avoid injuring your head, neck or back, don’t dive into shallow water.

Always swim with a buddy. And for added safety, follow these tips from the American Red Cross:9

  • Enter the water feet first.
  • Know your limitations as a swimmer.
  • Be careful when entering unknown or shallow water. Be aware of hazards such as underwater rocks, obstacles and debris.
  • Do not jump into the water from a high object, such as a bridge or boat.
  • Only dive where the water is marked safe for diving. It should be at least nine feet deep, with no objects under the surface that you could hit. And never dive headfirst into the surf.

7. Be safe in the sand

Even if the sand at your beach looks clean, it’s often hiding germs you can’t see. They can come from the water, nearby pipe drainage or animal waste.10

If you’ve touched the sand, be sure to wash your hands with soap and clean water for 20 seconds before you eat. Or you can use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if you don’t have soap and clean water.

And don’t forget to play safe: The beach looks like a perfect playground. But even when the air temperature is a cool 75, the sun can heat up the sand to more than 100 degrees. And on a 90-degree summer day, ouch! The sand can scorch your feet at more than 120 degrees. That can cause serious burns.11 Wear a pair of sneakers or beach shoes for those volleyball games or when creating the world’s most amazing sandcastle.

Shoes will also protect your feet from injuries or cuts from sharp objects in the sand. It’s especially important to keep your feet safe if you have diabetes.

8. Keep an eye on the sky

Head indoors if a thunderstorm blows in. Even if lightning is far out at sea, it’s still not safe to stay on the beach. Here’s the rule: If you can hear thunder, the lightning is close enough to hurt you. It can strike more than 10 miles from where the rain is falling.12

A cloth beach cabana or a picnic shelter won’t protect you. Instead, go into a building such as a hotel or store. Your car should also be all right. Close the windows and avoid the vehicle’s electronics while waiting out the storm. (But, convertibles will not protect your from lightning, even if the top is up.)

Stay in a safe place for at least 30 minutes after you hear the last clap of thunder.

9. Stay hydrated

People may become dehydrated while sitting on the beach or playing in the ocean. “I’ve had folks get very dehydrated, just because they weren’t hitting their water or their sports drink,” Dr. Lee says. Drink water or other non-sweetened drinks to keep your fluid levels up. Or eat foods containing water, like watermelon, cucumber and other fresh fruits and vegetables. Snow cones or popsicles are okay, too (but watch your portions — they’re high in sugar). Dr. Lee recommends drinking about three quarts of water during your day. If you’ve been told to restrict fluids, talk to your doctor about how much water you should drink when outdoors.

10. Limit or avoid alcohol

Drinking affects your ability to swim and dive safely. It can even make you take dangerous risks. Sobering facts: Alcohol is involved in up to 70% of water-recreation deaths in adults and adolescents.13 Also, alcohol can raise your risk of dehydration on a hot day. That’s because it can make you urinate more often and lose more fluids.14

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  1. American Academy of Dermatology. What to wear to protect your skin from the sun. Accessed May 22, 2023.
  2. Skin Cancer Foundation. Skin cancer facts and statistics. Updated January 2023. Accessed May 22, 2023.
  3. American Academy of Dermatology. Practice safe sun. Published April 18, 2022. Accessed May 22, 2023.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sun safety. Last updated April 18, 2023. Accessed May 22, 2023
  5. National Weather Service. Know before you go into the water. Accessed May 22, 2023.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and FoodSafety.gov. Seasons change, but food safety steps shouldn’t. Accessed May 22, 2023.
  7. US Department of Agriculture. Tailgating Food Safety Q&A. Updated February 23, 2021. Accessed June 15, 2023.
  8. National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center. 2021 annual report. Published 2021. Accessed May 22, 2023.
  9. American Red Cross. Swimming safely at the beach. Published 2023. Accessed May 22, 2023.
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Visiting oceans, lakes, and rivers. Published August 10, 2021. Accessed May 22, 2023.
  11. Cureus. Beach feet. Published December 2019. Accessed June 2, 2023.
  12. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Lightning safety. Last updated May 2, 2023. Accessed May 22, 2023.
  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drowning facts. Updated October 7, 2022. Accessed May 22, 2023.
  14. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol’s Effects on Health. Updated June 2023. Accessed June 15, 2023.

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