The dog days of summer are going full blast. The weather has warmed and you’ve managed — hopefully — to finally squeeze yourself into that teeny-tiny bikini. You’re ready to hit the beach and relax in the sun. Whether you’re headed to the vast ocean shores or the backyard spring-fed pond, you’re sure to soak up some much-needed vitamin D. Yet, nothing in life is without its fair share of worries, and the beach is no exception. Though you don’t have to worry about a sequel to Jaws if you’re just hitting up the local lake, no trip is entirely safe. We’re not talking about the threat of blindness when you see the snow-white skin hiding behind your boyfriend’s polo shirt. The beach is a wild place — and, as such, subjected to the crazy, unpredictable whims of Mother Nature — and each new day will be different from the last. It’s important to know the risks so you can keep safe at all times. From pollution to wild animals to gross creepy crawlies, there’s a lot to consider when planning your next getaway. Don’t stress; by learning about the dangers lurking at every beach and how to avoid them, you’ll be sure to have the best experience yet.
15. Treacherous Waters
Everybody knows that you go to the beach primarily to enjoy, well, the water. But there are dangers lurking in the waves that you should be aware of. Riptides are powerful currents that flow away from shore and are dangerous because they can tug unwitting swimmers out to sea. They won’t pull you underwater, but instead out to sea. If you get caught in a riptide — or “undertow” — stay calm! Swim parallel to the shore and, once you’re free, swim at an angle back to the beach. Don’t swim without lifeguard supervision and always have a buddy. Another common ocean condition —you won’t find either of these at a lake — is a shore break. When waves break directly onto the shore, whether large or small, the excessive force can cause injury to your neck or spine. Most beaches post shore break conditions to warn unsuspecting swimmers, so this one is easy to avoid: never swim when a shore break warning is in effect.
14. The Scorching Sun
Obviously, besides the water, the sun is the next factor attracting you to the beach, but unfortunately, it poses some pretty serious dangers as well. Damage from ultraviolet radiation is arguably one of the most common hazards found at any beach, large or small, coastal or inland. Furthermore, heat stroke can occur when extreme temperatures raise your body’s core temperature over 104 °F/40 °C. Luckily, both dangers are easy to avoid. Pay attention to the time; the sun’s rays are most damaging between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., especially in early summer. Wear sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 as well as protective clothing like hats and sunglasses. Be sure to drink plenty of water and go inside if you notice any symptoms such as nausea, fatigue, muscle cramps, or vomiting.
13. Blood-Thirsty Bugs & Flesh-Burrowing Sand Critters
Unfortunately, the warmer and more luxurious the beach weather, the more creepy crawlies you’re going to encounter, as well. The beach is filled with stinging bugs such as bees, mosquitoes, and spiders. Although bee stings are usually mild and treatable — if you have allergies always bring your antihistamines or Epi-Pen with you — mosquitoes can carry nasty diseases — West Nile, Zika, and malaria. Another critter unique to the beach is the sand flea. Sand fleas aren’t actually insects, but crustaceans. They leave itchy red welts and the females can lay eggs under your skin — gross, right? To avoid getting bit by these mean-spirited buggers, follow a few simple tips. Be mindful of where you step or place your belongings — including your towel or blanket — and always wear insect repellent. Wear shoes when walking on the beach, and if you get bit, remember not to scratch! Keep an eye on the bite, and head to a doctor if it doesn’t clear up soon or other symptoms are present.
12. Death By Lightning
Unfortunately, the water is literally the worst place to be in a thunder and lightning storm. And although lightning strikes are rare, they’re deadly, and being on the beach really ups your risks of getting struck. You are more likely to be struck by lightning if you’re near or on the coast, and sadly, because the only way to avoid lightning is to get inside, it has the ability to really mess up your day’s plans. If you hear thunder, you’re likely within striking distance, so get to your car or the nearest shelter quickly. Don’t return to the beach until at least 30 minutes after the last thunder crack.
11. Death By Shark
Despite what Hollywood would have you believe, shark attacks are extremely rare. Sharks prefer to feed on fish or marine mammals and generally, any attacks on humans are a matter of mistaken identity. Nevertheless, shark attacks do happen, and are actually becoming more common as their habitats are threatened by overfishing and human development. To prevent a shark attack, swim close to shore and stay in groups, as sharks are less likely to attack in crowded areas. If you’re bleeding or wearing brightly colored clothing, stay out of the water, as both tend to attract the predator. Don’t swim at night, when sharks are most active, and never by yourself or without a lifeguard present. If you see a shark, whatever you do, move slowly yet immediately towards shore.
10. Jellyfish Attacks
Keep your eyes peeled at all times for jellyfish. Although there are over 2,000 species of the stinging creatures, only about 70 are dangerous to humans and of those, most stings only cause a mild, itchy rash. If you live in an area — such as northern Australia — where lethal jellyfish are present, don’t swim during “Stinger Season” — from October to May — or whenever a warning is posted at local beaches. Pay attention to local health advisories. When at the beach, watch for washed up jellyfish on the beach, and always wear protective footwear. If you do happen to be stung, don’t rinse with water, which releases poison, and whatever you do, despite popular folklore, don’t pee on it. Not only is this disgusting strategy ineffective at treating a sting, you’ll also gross out the lifeguard or medic who has to help you.
9. Nightmarish Microscopic Superbugs
These bugs aren’t the kind that will bite or sting, but instead the kind that will make you really, really sick. Heavily populated beaches are often crawling with strains of various “superbugs,” including Staphyloccoccus aureaus or, as it’s more commonly known, MRSA. MRSA can be caught by taking a mere dip in the water and causes serious skin infections. If left untreated, MRSA can cause life-threatening bone and lung conditions, among other frightening problems. Even scarier, MRSA is methicillin-resistant and can be found on beaches that have even passed water quality tests. Luckily, to stay safe, all you need to do is remember to rinse off in a nice hot shower both before and after swimming. As an added bonus, this will get all of that annoying sand off your skin, too!
8. Poo-Infested Water
Luckily, unlike the nightmare-inducing superbugs, water quality is something that’s easy for officials to monitor and keep track of. NOAA and local agencies provide up-to-date information regarding bacterial levels in larger bodies of water. Failing septic systems, fertilizers, pets, or even the introduction of E.coli may cause high levels of bacteria or chemicals in the water. Swimmers then run the risk of getting gastrointestinal distress or even hepatitis. Furthermore, algal blooms or “red tides” are commonly caused by the introduction of fertilizers in the water. And although these blooms aren’t always dangerous, swimming in these areas can sometimes cause stomach problems. Don’t swim where the water looks murky or unclean. Most beaches are monitored for pollution, but if you start to feel sick after a swim, clean yourself thoroughly with soap and water. Try not to swallow any water while you’re swimming, either.
7. Death By Boat
Okay, enough of the nasty stuff — you can eat your sandwich again now. This danger is one that’s easily controlled if you don’t plan on climbing aboard a boat or jet ski during your next beach visit. Over 1000 boating fatalities occur every year in the United States alone, many of these caused by unsafe operation due to negligence or even alcohol consumption. Jet skis, though smaller, aren’t safe, either. If you must board one of these watercrafts, please don’t drink or take unnecessary risks. Speeding, going into dangerous areas, or taking children along for the ride increases the likelihood of injury or death. So be smart; make sure you are mindful of your speed. Bring a friend and always wear a life jacket.
6. Walking Barefoot Through The Beach
Large amounts of plastics, metals, rubber, and other discarded or lost items pollute the oceans daily, and this litter often ends up on the beach. As a result, walking barefoot through sand becomes a risky endeavor. You’re likely to encounter broken glass, leftover cans and food containers, or even used syringes. Human beings are gross, and we like to leave our stuff lying around. Our oceans are filled to the brim with items that don’t exist there naturally. To add further insult to injury, many beachgoers either aren’t mindful or don’t care where they put their trash. To keep yourself and others safe, always dispose of your trash in a designated receptacle as soon as you’re done with it. And don’t wait too long — those swift beachside breezes are good at picking up your sandwich bag and tossing it along the shore. Wear shoes when strolling down the beach. If you find litter and feel comfortable picking it up, do so and dispose of it, but wear gloves to minimize your risk of infection.
5. Angry Stingrays Lurking Near The Shore
The stingray receives little attention from popular media, but is an arguably scarier marine animal than a shark. You’re safe if you’re swimming next to a stingray, but walking in the shallow end is where the danger lurks. Stingrays tend to bury themselves in the sand in shallow coastal waters — exactly where you tend to wade — and, if stepped on, release an excruciating sting. To make matters worse, because most people step on stingrays, these ferocious creatures are able to whip up a barbed tail and further injure your ankles if threatened. Though these stings aren’t usually life-threatening, they are excruciatingly painful. To be safe, when walking in shallow waters, drag your feet along the sandy bottom instead of taking full steps. This will help warn stingrays of your approach so that they can vamoose before you’re able to tread upon one of these unsuspecting critters.
4. Deadly Sandcastles
I know what you’re thinking — first the water and the sun, now the sand too? What’s left? Unfortunately, sand presents just as many hidden dangers as the other items listed above. As much fun as building a sandcastle is, it’s important to remember that sinkholes can quickly engulf and suffocate a person. Sinkholes are made more common on the beach where the loose sand and constant movement of the water and soil cause a lack of structure underneath. Although this type of hazard is rare, it’s life-threatening because if you’re sucked up by a sinkhole, it can be virtually impossible to find you in order to dig you out. To be safe, when building sandcastles or excavating holes at the beach, be sure to avoid any hole that is deeper than waist-height. This way, you’ll steer clear of any possible sinkholes before you’re even aware they’re there.
3. Food Poisoning
Foodborne illnesses aren’t only found at the beach, but the heat and informal nature of most beachside dining establishments tends to make contracting one of these diseases here much more common. Though most instances of food poisoning are mild, other cases are known to kill thousands of Americans every year. Shellfish is particularly dangerous, with a wide variety of toxins lurking in them if not properly cooked. To be safe, select clean, positively reviewed restaurants and avoid beachside vendors if possible. If you choose to bring your own food, be sure to keep everything cool throughout the day. Don’t eat anything that has been sitting out in the sun and has risen to room temperature. Keep all food out of the “danger zone” by making sure it’s not stored at a temperature between 4 and 60 degrees Celsius.
2. Killer Booze
It’s not exactly fun to teetotal, but keep in mind that alcohol causes thousands of deaths each year, many of these in the beach going population. From boating accidents to alcohol poisoning to dehydration, one drink too many can quickly change you from being totally fine to totally dead. Be mindful of how many drinks you consume at the beach, and try not to consume more than one or two an hour. The sun’s rays magnify the effects of alcohol, so be sure to drink water throughout the day as well. Be aware that drinking too much can make you sleepy and impair your ability to drive a boat or get yourself home at the end of the night. The advice here is to party in moderation, and don’t let booze get the better of you.
1. Homicidal Maniacs
Let’s face it — hundreds of thousands of people are murdered every year. You’d think people would be in sunnier moods during the summer, yet excessive heat tends to cause an uptick in violent crimes. Robberies, sexual assaults and homicides are just as common on the beach as they are anywhere else. Keep yourself safe by storing valuables in a locked car — or leave them at home. Don’t leave items unattended on the beach, and don’t visit the water alone. Always be aware, and if a situation makes you uncomfortable, leave or contact law enforcement straight away.
On that cheery note, are you ready to hit the beach? While there are certainly hazards, it’s not unlike any other vacation destination you’ll encounter. By combining awareness of your surroundings with the knowledge needed to deal with problems as they arise, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy your beach day to the fullest. Just watch out for sharks!