NOAA issues beach safety tips for holiday weekend

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To help you and your family have a healthy and safe day at the beach this Fourth of July weekend, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a list of the greatest dangers while at the beach and the best way to minimize those risks.

Photo Courtesy of New Hanover County. Photo by: Charles Smith
Photo of Masonboro Island by Charles Smith courtesy of New Hanover County.

According to the U.S. Lifesaving Association (USLA), 80 percent of all ocean rescues are related to rip currents. In 2014, Wrightsville, Carolina, and Kure beaches reported 506 rescues due to rip currents.

Read related story: Gov. McCrory declares this week as rip current awareness week

If caught in a rip current, remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly. Don’t fight the current; instead swim out of the current in a direction parallel to the shoreline. When out of the current, swim toward shore. If you’re unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water. When out of the current, swim toward shore.

Shorebreaks

A shorebreak is exactly how it sounds–a wave that breaks directly on shore. These are especially dangerous for inexperienced body surfers and swimmers due to potential neck and spinal injuries when landing on hard sand. Both small and high surf can be equally as dangerous and can cause serious injury or death.

The best way to avoid dangerous shorebreaks is to make sure to swim in an area with a lifeguard and ask about wave conditions.

Lightning

According to NOAA, an average of 62 people are killed each year by lightning, and the safest way to avoid being struck is leaving the beach when you hear thunder. If you see or hear a thunderstorm approaching, head toward the nearest enclosed building, not a picnic shelter or shed.

If you cannot find an enclosed building, the second safest area is an enclosed vehicle, car, truck or van. Just be sure that you are not in a convertible or soft-top vehicle. Once in a safe area, wait 30 minutes after the last crack of thunder before heading back to the beach.

Sharks

The recent shark attacks on two teenagers off the coast of Oak Island reminded folks- both locally and nationally- about the dangers of sharks in our coastal communities.

Read related story: OCEARCH biologist: Shark attacks likely different sharks

NOAA states that while shark attacks are rare, they are most likely to occur near shore, typically inshore of a sandbar or between sandbars where sharks can be trapped by low tide, and near steep drop offs where sharks’ prey gather. While the risks are small, it’s important to be aware of how to avoid an attack.

Suggestions from NOAA for reducing the risk of a shark attack are as follows:

  •  Don’t swim too far from shore.
  •  Stay in groups – sharks are more likely to attack a solitary individual.
  •  Avoid being in the water during darkness or twilight when sharks are most active.
  •  Don’t go in the water if bleeding from a wound – sharks have a very acute sense of smell.
  •  Leave the shiny jewelry at home – the reflected light resembles fish scales.
  •  Avoid brightly-colored swimwear – sharks see contrast particularly well.

Jellyfish

Last month the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a beach hazard statement that included a warning about Portuguese Man of War sitings on the shores of Carolina Beach. While these creatures are not technically jellyfish, they are very similar and have long tentacles that can cause blistering and extreme pain.

Read related article: Venomous Portuguese men-of-war spotted on area shorelines

While all jellyfish sting, not all contain poison that hurts humans. Be careful of jellies that wash up on shore, as some can still sting if tentacles are wet. NOAA recommends that if you are stung by a jellyfish to first seek a lifeguard to give first aid. If no lifeguards are present, wash the wound with vinegar or rubbing alcohol. Do not rinse with water. Adding water to the wound could release more poison.

Sunburn

Not using or re-applying the correct amount of sunscreen can leave beachgoers with first- and second-degree burns. While first-degree burns will cause redness and can be treated with a cool bath and some moisturizers, second-degree burns will blister and can include headaches, chills and fever. Some recommendations by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for buying and applying sunscreen include using sunscreen with an SPF greater than 15.

Sunscreen should be applied 15 minutes prior to sun exposure and re-applied every two hours. Use waterproof or water resistant products. Water proof sunscreens enable about 80 minutes of protection while in the water and water resistant productions offer about 40 minutes of protection.