Summer is here, and for many families, that means hitting the beach for some fun in the sun. While you’re packing towels, sand toys and water bottles, it’s also important to think about kids’ beach safety tips

By: Ellen Schmidt

It’s upsetting to think about, but drowning is the leading cause of death in children ages 1-4, with the exception of those with birth defects, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For children ages 1 to 14, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death after motor vehicle crashes. As you keep those sobering statistics in mind, there are other ocean safety factors to consider, too.

In addition to bringing a first aid kit and lots of sunscreen, there are some vital tips to remember once you arrive at the beach in order to have as much fun as possible. While you’re overseeing the building of sand castles and the quest for the perfect sand dollar, put these safety tips for kids in your back pocket, mama.

Here are some kids’ safety tips to keep in mind as you head to the beach this summer:

Sun protection is key

Children are not able to adjust to heat as well as adults can, so they’re at a greater risk for heat-related illness. The CDC recommends limiting outdoor activity to when it’s coolest, like morning and evening hours. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) takes it a bit further and cautions against outdoor activities between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m..

If you’ve got a young baby, try to plan beach activities at a time when the sun’s rays won’t be at full power. Wear sun-safe clothing, bring your own shade in the form of a beach tent or umbrella can help, and so can frequent feedings of breastmilk or formula for babies.

Sunscreen is important for babies and older kids, the AAP notes, so apply it 15 to 30 minutes before going out, and reapply every two hours. No sunscreen is truly waterproof (even though some may claim to be) so always do a reapplication on the kids after water play. Don’t forget sunscreen for you, too, mama. 

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Keep the H20 flowing

Drinking lots of water is important year round, but especially when you’re spending the day outdoors. Dr. Jaydeep Tripathy, with Doctor Spring, writes, “Always bring water to a beach trip because kids get hot faster than adults. They can easily overheat because they have certain characteristics that naturally impair their thermoregulation. They overheat about 3-5 times faster than adults, which is why it can be fatal for young kids. Always check up on children when they are playing or moving around a lot because they might not know that their body is heating up already.”

Always have a watchful eye on little ones 

Obviously keeping an eye on your child around any body of water goes without saying. But one airline pilot safety tip makes things a little easier for parents, believe it or not! Susie Allison at The Busy Toddler employs a two-word safety technique she learned from her husband, a former pilot. Allison writes, “When airline pilots need to make a change of controls in the cockpit, the pilot currently flying says: ‘Your airplane.’ This signals a change of controls is coming. The other pilot must respond back with ‘My airplane,’ acknowledging that they are now flying the aircraft.”

Allison continues, “When one of us needs to make a change in supervision or go do something different or help someone else, we announce it and make a verbal change: ‘Your Kate & Matt.’ And we wait for the other to respond ‘My Kate & Matt.’ This is the verbal and acknowledged shift of supervision duties for those two kids from one parent to the other. THIS SYSTEM WORKS.”

For one more set of eyes, make sure to sit near the lifeguard. “Lifeguards sit on high chairs so parents should set up their spot near them. This way they can run to your child quickly if they are drowning or caught up in a wave. It’ll also be easier for them to find you if the get lost,” writes Elizabeth Hicks, co-founder of Parenting Nerd.

Teach kids to face the water

This beach safety tip applies specifically to toddlers. By teaching kids to stand with their back to the beach and face towards the ocean, they are less likely to get knocked over by a strong wave when it comes rolling up. 

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Choose bright colored swimwear

What color swimsuit your child wears in the water may seem like a strange safety tip, but here’s why– Alive Safety Solutions, Inc., an aquatic safety group, found that neon colors like pink, orange, green and yellow are the most visible under water up to 18 inches. 

Jenny McCuiston, co-founder of Goldfish Swim School, agrees. “When shopping for summer swimwear, avoid colors that could blend in with the water and choose swimsuits with bright colors instead. They will stand out in the water and make it easier to spot a swimmer in need of help.”

Bring life jackets for little ones

According to the Red Cross, water safety at the beach is a bit different than pool safety, as “even in shallow water, wave action can cause a loss of footing.” The organization recommends young children wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets in and the around open water like the ocean, which can be unpredictable.

Watch ocean currents

Visiting the ocean and listening to waves crash in and out is immediately calming. But it’s important to watch those waves from a safety aspect, too. Rip tides appear deceptively calm, but in actuality are strong sea currents which push away from the shore when a strong storm is near, and are formed by the strong winds pushing water towards the shore.

Facebook post by former surf lifesaver, Kenny Jewell, went viral in 2015 and continues to be shared because of his insight into rip tides and what to do if you are caught in one.

How to identify a rip tide

  • Often the safest/calmest most enticing-looking area along a beach is usually a rip. A rip is usually the area devoid of wave activity and appears darker and deceptively calmer. It can sometimes appear milky or turbulent, but it is always pretty much void of wave activity. 
  • Always take 5-10 mins when you get to the beach to observe surf conditions and identify where these areas are. 
  • If you are caught in a rip, DO NOT PANIC. Go into floating mode and raise one arm as a distress signal when possible. See which direction the rip is taking you, is it straight out or at an angle? Once you have determined this, and if you have the energy, swim to the right or left of the direction of flow, never against. If you cannot swim out to either side of the rip, just go with it. Most rips won’t take you out very far, and will usually spit you out not long after they take you, so keep calm and save your energy for the swim back to shore.
  • Jewell suggests showing children the pictures he posted on his viral Facebook post so that they will be able to identify a rip tide, too. He writes, “You can’t always be watching them, and it is only a matter of a few meters each way of the point of entry to the water that could mean them being safe, or instantly caught in a rip.”
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Oh, and keep an eye out for jelly fish, too, mama. While yes, there are many safety factors to consider when you hit the beach with your family this summer, I hope taking all of them into account leads you to have the best time ever.


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