Summer and swimming go hand in hand. When the temperature cranks up, many of us head to the beach, lake, river or pool to get cool. There’s nothing like getting some relief from the heat. When you hit the water, it probably looks so alluring that you don’t think twice about the potential dangers lurking in and around it before diving or running right in.
When you do consider the threats, you might think of the large creatures (like sharks!) that live in the waters, but there are a few factors to think about in terms of health and safety. Not to say sharks aren’t an issues as we’ve certainly seen this summer. In fact, more than 150 great white shark sightings have been recorded off the coast of Massachusetts this summer, the majority of them in the waters near Cape Cod. Scientists speculate that high water temperatures near Cape Cod and a high population of seals – the great white shark’s snack of choice – are prompting the elevated number of shark sightings.
Before you panic and avoid the water altogether, read on for some signs you should be aware of to play it safe by the water.
If there has been a shark warning or a beach is closed due to a shark sighting, please adhere to the directions and stay away until cleared for safety. According to OceanServiceNoaa.org, shark attacks though rare, are most likely to occur near shore, typically inshore of a sandbar or between sandbars, where sharks can become trapped by low tide, and near steep drop offs where shark’s prey gather. The relative risk of a shark attack is very small but should always be minimized whenever possible. To reduce your risk don’t swim too far from shore, stay in groups, avoid being in the water during darkness or twilight, don’t go in the water if bleeding from a wound, leave the shiny jewelry at home, and avoid brightly-colored swimwear.
- Water Quality Warnings
Coastal beaches are among the most treasured natural resources in the nation, but beach closures or advisories caused by poor water quality often prevent the public from enjoying these resources. As water flows from land to coastal waters, it is often contaminated by untreated sewage from boats, pets, failing septic systems, fertilizers, and spills from hazardous substances. High levels of bacteria and other chemicals in the water can cause gastrointestinal illnesses in those that swim directly in the water. When visiting the beach, be aware of all beach closures and advisories.
- The Water is Green or Cloudy
Green: According to PoolGuardUSA.com, if you are seeing green in your water, chances are it is algae, a common bacteria that can cause a host of medical problems if you are exposed for long enough. This slimy stuff likes to settle on the top of the water, so make sure to look carefully before you go in. Don’t let your dog jump in either, as pets have been known to die from exposure to this harmful bacteria.
Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) (popularly referred to as red tides) are dense populations or “blooms” of algae that form in coastal waters. A small percentage of these blooms can be toxic to marine animals and humans.
Cloudy: Not only does the appearance of cloudy water mean that there is some lurking bacteria, it also poses a threat of low visibility. If the water isn’t clear, there is a chance that the lifeguards cannot see you and rescue you in case of a drowning or other accident.
Keep an eye out for jellyfish. All jellyfish sting, but not all have venom that hurts humans. Of the 2,000 species of jellyfish, only about 70 seriously harm or may occasionally kill people. When on the beach, take note of jellyfish warning signs. Be careful around jellies washed up on the sand as some still sting if their tentacles are wet. Tentacles torn off a jellyfish can sting, too. If you are stung, don’t rinse with water, which could release more poison. Lifeguards usually give first aid for stings. See a doctor if you have an allergic reaction.
- Rip Currents
Rip Currents account for more than 80 percent of rescues performed by surf beach lifeguards. They are powerful, channeled currents of water flowing away from shore that quickly pull swimmers out to sea. Rip currents typically extend from the shoreline, through the surf zone, and past the line of breaking waves. The best way to stay safe is to recognize the danger of rip currents. If caught in one, don’t fight it! Swim parallel to the shore and swim back to land at an angle. It may be hard to determine how fast a current is, but a good rule of thumb is that if you can distinctly see the current, it is too fast for you. Always remember to swim at beaches with lifeguards.
A shorebreak is an ocean condition when waves break directly on the shore. Both small and high waves can be equally as unpredictable and dangerous and typically form when there is a rapid transition from deep to shallow water.
- The Attendant or Lifeguard is Distracted
According to Prevention.com, pools and beaches need a lot of attention, and the manager on duty should be vigilant. A lifeguard who is a texting addict or a flirty teenager are just two types of distracted pool attendants who can forget to test and fail to make adjustments to keep swimmers safe. For example, if a pool’s chlorine level isn’t being carefully monitored, it may become a Petri dish of bad bugs like norovirus, which can give innocent swimmers bouts of vomiting and cramps.
The expression “the more the merrier” may apply to many things, but not a public pool or body of water. It’s a matter of mathematics: Each new body multiplies the germs, viruses and bacteria getting into the water. More and more swimmers also divide the lifeguard’s attention, which equals less safety for all. Use common sense: If the pool or swimming area seems way too crowded, it probably is.
- Pay Attention to Flags
The United States Lifesaving Association, along with the International Lifesaving Federation, has developed a flag warning system that has been adopted by coastal communities worldwide to notify beachgoers of potential water hazards.
The most serious of all beach warning flags, red flags warn swimmers of severe hazards in the water. One red flag means that the surf is high or there are dangerous currents or both. Though you can still swim if there is a red flag, you should use extreme caution and go in the water only if you’re a keen swimmer.
Two red flags, means that the water is closed to swimming, as conditions are too dangerous for even the strongest swimmers. In some communities, red flags feature the symbol of a swimmer with a white line through it, indicating that swimming is prohibited.
When ocean conditions are rough, but not life-threatening, you might see a yellow flag on the beach. A yellow flag indicates potentially high surf or dangerous currents and undertows and means that swimmers should exercise extreme caution. If there is a yellow flag, swim only near lifeguards and heed all lifeguard warnings.
If you’re swimming with children, or you aren’t a strong swimmer yourself, wear a life jacket when swimming on yellow-flag days. Some beaches have a permanent yellow flag because of rocks, a sudden drop-off or a high population of bait fish that attracts predators.
The ocean is always unpredictable, and even on clear and calm days, hazards still exist. However, there are days when the threat of danger is lower than others. A green flag on the beach is an all-clear sign, indicating that it’s safe to swim. Even when the flag is green, make sure to exercise caution in the ocean, listen to lifeguard warnings and keep a close eye on children.
Blue and Purple Flags
Sharks, jellyfish and other dangerous marine life can turn a fun day at the beach into an unpleasant day at the hospital – or worse. When potentially dangerous ocean animals have been spotted, you’ll see a dark blue or purple flag. These flags fly either on their own or with other colored flags. If you see a blue or purple flag, but the water is not closed to swimming, use extreme caution and keep a close watch for dangerous animals.
Some beaches use flags that are particular to that beach or related to ordinary activities there. For example, in areas where surfing is typical, you may see a yellow flag with a black dot in the center. This flag marks an area where surfing is prohibited, giving swimmers an area where they can swim without encountering surfers. If you see a flag at the beach and do not know what it means, ask a lifeguard for an explanation or look for an indicator key near the beach entrance or in a public area.
- Use common sense, evaluate your surroundings and listen to the warnings!!! And don’t forget to have fun!!!
Summer is the season for swimming and adventure and there’s no better way to do it than to find a fun place to swim, explore, and relax. Whether you know of a private swimming hole nearby, you’re on vacation and see a river that looks inviting, the neighborhood pool looks cool or the beaches beckon, swimming comes with a set of risks. But you can keep you and your family safe. If you use common sense, evaluate your surroundings and listen to any warnings and advisories, you should have no problem safely swimming!
If you’ve been hurt or injured in any type of water accident, call Schulze Law today!