Few things scream "summer" more than soaking up some rays with the scent of salt water in the air and sand between your toes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans take about two billion trips to the beach each year.
But it's not all about fun in the sun (sorry). A relaxing beach weekend can turn sour with just one rogue wave or one angry sea creature. While most bad beach days end with little more than a sunburn in need of a good soak in aloe vera gel, serious injuries are more common than we'd like to believe. Here are a few tips to help you keep your end-of-summer beach trips as safe as can be.
Your Action Plan
Before hitting the waves, there are a few things to keep in mind. Even if you're heading to the pool or lake instead of the ocean, listen up - many of the tips below apply to hanging out near any body of water. No matter where you're headed, we've rounded up 13 tips to help you keep safe at the shore.
1. Watch for warning flags (and know what they mean).
Different beaches (and states) have different colored flags and assigned meanings, so be sure to ask the lifeguard if you're not sure what the flags signify.
Generally, red flags indicate strong surf and currents (i.e., "Be Careful!"). At some beaches, red means "beach closed" - so be sure to check before entering the water. Yellow flags indicate moderate surf and currents - the water is likely to be rough but not exceedingly dangerous. Exercise caution and stay near the lifeguards. Green flags indicate the ocean is calm or clear (though it's always smart to remain alert). Blue or purple flags often indicate that potentially dangerous marine life (think sharks or jellyfish) are in the area or have been spotted nearby. Use caution. And remember: Not all beaches are suitable for swimming, so know the rules before you set foot on the sand.
2. Check the weather.
Remember how electric devices and the bathtub don't mix? Neither do lightning and large bodies of water. Check the weather report before heading to the beach. Avoid the beach if there's lightning in the forecast and wait at least 30 minutes after the last thunder boom before heading back out to the sand. The beach will always be there tomorrow!