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Mother and daughter playing in the surf at the beach.

Ocean Safety: Vigilance Saves Lives

By Beverly Moors, FNP-C, IBCLC, Coastal Pediatrics

The ocean is an unpredictable force that we often underestimate. Teaching kids how to safely enjoy the ocean, while reminding them that it can be a dangerous place for even the most experienced swimmers, can help save lives.

Make sure you, and your child, are prepared to play safely in the ocean with these tips:

  • Obey the flags. Public beaches have flags to indicate the safety of the water. Yellow flags caution some light surf or currents and discourages weak swimmers from entering the water. Red flags mean there is strong surf or currents and recommends against anyone getting in the water. A red over red flag means the water is closed to public use and no swimmers should be in the water. Find more beach warning flags and their meanings here.
  • Pay attention to warning signs. Signs with all sorts of warning messages may be posted at the beach access or even on lifeguard stands. Pay attention to signs that may indicate no swim zones, slippery rocks, or shark or jellyfish sightings.
  • Stay near a lifeguard. While an adult should be designated to supervise children at all times, a lifeguard can help spot a child in trouble when you don’t. Make sure you are on a public beach with lifeguards present. Even when simply wading up to their knees or waist, a rogue wave could pull a child into a dangerous situation.
  • Don’t dive into the ocean. Most places you will swim at the beach are not deep enough to dive. If your child dives and hits their head on the sand floor, they could get a head or neck injury and even become paralyzed.
  • Don’t swim close to piers. If a wave throws you into the wooden structures or a rock, you could be seriously injured.
  • Never turn your back to the ocean. When swimming, wading, or walking near the water, make sure your child keeps an eye on the ocean. Otherwise, a wave could catch them off guard from behind.
  • Teach your child to float, breathe, and stay calm. Swimming in the ocean is tiresome and takes much more skill than swimming in a pool. By teaching your child to float on their back, they have a way to rest if they’re too far out and can’t get back to shore while creating time for them to be rescued.
  • Know the currents. Teach your child about the two types of currents you may encounter at the beach, which are longshore and rip currents. Longshore currents cause you to move down the beach over time. Rip currents can pull a swimmer under or further into the ocean. Teach your child what a rip current looks like and, if caught in one, they should swim parallel to the beach until they’re safely out of the current, then swim back in to shore.

For all water situations

  • Go over the rules before entering any water situation. Lay down strict rules and go over each one before entering any situation with a body of water.
  • Teach your child to ask permission. Your child should know to ask permission before getting into or even approaching the water.
  • Provide “touch supervision” for non-swimmers. For infants, toddlers, and any children who are not swimmers, an adult should be in the pool providing “touch supervision,” meaning they are within arm’s reach of the child.
  • Never leave a child unattended. Even if a lifeguard is present, it’s important that you, or a designated person, is always supervising your child. With older kids, you can establish a buddy system with another child so they are never alone, but you should still keep watch.
  • Teach your child to never pretend to drown. If your child pretends to be drowning, and the lifeguard or another adult takes them seriously, their display could prevent someone else’s life from being saved.
  • Teach your child how to swim. Swimming skills are as important as safety strategies in keeping children safe.
  • Enter the water feet first. The safest way to enter the water is feet first to avoid head injuries. If your experienced swimmer wants to dive, make sure they know the appropriate depth for diving and never to dive into the shallow end or any body of water with an unknown depth.
  • Teach kids to get out of the water before they become tired. Swimming can drain your child’s energy, especially when you factor in the hot sun. Set a time limit for swimming and stick to it.
  • Wear a life vest. Life vests can help your inexperienced swimmer stay above water if they fall in or wander out on their own. Inflatable “floaties” are not a substitute for life jackets/vests.
  • No swimming during thunder and lightning.
  • Don’t allow horseplay. Dunking can seem playful until a child doesn’t realize their peer is struggling. Don’t allow horseplay and never dunk your child, even playfully.
  • Teach your children about the dangers of the water. Your child doesn’t want to get hurt just as much as you. Make them aware of the dangers of playing in water so they will take care in any situation.
  • Keep a phone nearby in case of emergency. Be prepared to call for help if needed by keeping a phone nearby at all times. Make sure it is charged and easy to locate.
  • Know CPR. All parents should learn infant and child CPR. Proper training in this first-aid technique can make a lifesaving difference until emergency help arrives. Check with your pediatrician or the American Red Cross for information about an approved CPR course in your area.

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About CHKD Medical  Group Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters has been the region’s most trusted name in pediatric care for more than 50 years. As members of CHKD Health System, our pediatricians work closely with CHKD’s full range of pediatric specialists and surgeons. They also share a commitment to quality, excellence and child-centered care. With 18 practices in 29 locations throughout the region, a CHKD pediatrician is never far.