Be Prepared for a Day at the Beach

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Millions of people in the U.S. have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and are resuming normal activities like going to the beach without a mask.(1)

Be prepared for a day at the beach. Take steps to protect your skin and eyes from the sun, avoid heat-related illness, and stay healthy and safe during your visit.

Know Before You Go

A beachy keen day can turn into anything if you aren’t prepared. Here are some things you should know before you go to the beach.

How to Swim in the Ocean

Swimming in the ocean isn’t like swimming in a pool. Waves, currents, and winds can drain your energy and strength. Rough surf and rip currents are especially dangerous if you aren’t already a strong swimmer and don’t know how to escape them.

Also, consider wearing a life jacket. Properly fitted US Coast Guard-approved life jackets add an extra layer of protection, particularly if you’re not a strong swimmer.

Check the local beach forecast before you leave for the beach and talk to the lifeguard when you get there. If you choose to swim at a beach without a lifeguard, never swim alone. Go with a friend and take a cell phone so that you’re prepared to call 911 for help.(2)

What the Warning Flags Mean

Read the beach safety signs before stepping onto the beach. Once on the beach, look for beach warning flags. They are often posted on or near a lifeguard’s stand. A green flag tells you water conditions are good with a minimal level of risk. The other colors can mean different things depending on the beach.

Water Quality

Germs found in the water and sand (swim area) often come from human or animal feces (poop). Before you plan your visit, check online to find out if the swim area is currently monitored, is under advisory, or has been closed for health or safety reasons. Water contaminated with germs can make you sick if you swallow it. It can also cause an infection if you get into the water with an open cut or wound.(3)

Stay Out of Water with a Bloom

Algae and cyanobacteria (sometimes called blue-green algae) are simple, plant-like organisms that live in the water. Sometimes they rapidly grow out of control, or “bloom”. These blooms can sometimes produce toxins (poisons) that can make people and animals sick. Blooms can look like foam, scum, paint, or mats on the surface of the water and can be different colors. The types of blooms can differ by location. For example, a common type in the Gulf of Mexico is called Karenja brevis red tide.

Before going to the beach learn tips to help you spot harmful algae and cyanobacteria (blue-green algae).

Check for local and state swimming advisories and water quality notices online or near the water before visiting the beach or any other body of water. Follow advisories to reduce your chances of getting sick.

Practice Sun Safety

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. Take steps to protect your skin from sun damage and sunburn which can increase your risk for skin cancer.

Shade

You can reduce your risk of sun damage and skin cancer by staying in the shade under an umbrella, tree, or another shelter. Your best bet to protect your skin is to use sunscreen or wear protective clothing when you’re outside—even when you’re in the shade.

Clothing

When possible, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants and skirts, which can provide protection from UV rays. If wearing this type of clothing isn’t practical, try to wear a T-shirt or a beach cover-up. Clothes made from tightly woven fabric offer the best protection. A wet T-shirt offers much less UV protection than a dry one, and darker colors may offer more protection than lighter colors.

Hat

For the most protection, wear a hat that has a brim all the way around that shades your face, ears, and the back of your neck. If you wear a baseball cap, you should also protect your ears and the back of your neck by wearing clothing that covers those areas, using sunscreen, or staying in the shade.

Sunglasses

Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection. Most sunglasses sold in the United States, regardless of cost, meet this standard. Wrap-around sunglasses work best because they block UV rays from sneaking in from the side.

Sunscreen

Put on broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays and has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher before you go outside.

Don’t forget to put a thick layer on all exposed skin. Get help for hard-to-reach places like your back. And remember, sunscreen wears off. Put it on again if you stay out in the sun for more than 2 hours and after swimming, sweating, or toweling off.

#PrepYourHealth for Tsunamis

The beach is a dangerous place to be during a tsunami. Tsunamis do not occur very often. And most that do occur are small and nondestructive. But it’s still a good idea to prepare and know the warnings signs.(8)

A tsunami can strike any U.S. coast, but the hazard is greatest for communities near geologic subduction zones, where large earthquakes can occur. Find out if your beach destination is in a tsunami hazard zone or evacuation zone, and what routes to take in the event of an evacuation.(9)

There are two types of tsunami warnings:

  • An official tsunami warning is broadcast through local radio and television, outdoor sirens, Wireless Emergency Alerts, weather radio, and NOAA websites.
  • Natural tsunami warnings include strong or long earthquakes, a roar (like a train or an airplane) from the ocean, and unusual ocean behavior, such as water receding (or moving away) from the coast. A natural warning may be the first, best, and only warning that a tsunami is on its way.(10)

You may not get both warnings. It’s important to know the differences and respond right away to whichever you get first. Seconds can make all the difference so act immediately.

Move to a safe place away from the water. Get to high ground and as far inland as you can. Follow instructions from local officials. Never go down to or stay on the beach to watch a tsunami.

Stay informed and stay put until local authorities tell you it’s safe.

Learn more ways to prepare for tsunamis.

Resources

References

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/fully-vaccinated.html
  2. https://www.weather.gov/safety/ripcurrent
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/oceans-lakes-rivers/visiting-oceans-lakes-rivers.html
  4. https://www.weather.gov/safety/tsunami
  5. https://nws.weather.gov/nthmp/ushazard.html
  6. https://www.weather.gov/jetstream/prep_you

 

Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that the CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.

Have a question for CDC? CDC-INFO (http://www.cdc.gov/cdc-info/index.html) offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics.

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Page last reviewed: July 6, 2021
Page last updated: July 6, 2021