Safe in the Surf

Smart suggestions for safety at the ocean

Lakes and rivers are very different from oceans, and not just because of the lack of saline. Oceans have movement and inhabitants that freshwater bodies do not. Because of this, ocean-side safety is a different matter from general beach safety. Tides and currents can cause all manner of havoc because they are not always as predictable as people think.

Any form of safe play and recreation is based in the framework of common sense. Always follow posted signs that issue warnings. Donít go into water if you cannot swim. Be sure lifeguards are present. Always swim with a buddy (or three or more!). Use a personal flotation device with young children in the water or if you are a weak swimmer and feel you need to go for a dip in the ocean. Itís better to be a little embarrassed than to drown.

Everyone knows itís dangerous (as well as foolish) to drink and then drive a car. Some countries have amended their laws and are now filing drunken boating charges against people who have consumed alcohol and piloted a boat. Even where some types of recreational drugs are legal, there are often laws prohibiting their use when driving or sailing. But what about swimming?

There are no known laws preventing it, but being impaired when you step into an ocean (or lake, or any other body of water) means risking your life. If you cannot judge the depth of the water, for example, how can you possibly ascertain the possibility of a safe dive or the danger of a certain wave heading your way? Avoid any form of drugs or alcohol before you go swimming; itís that simple.

Taking a swim in the ocean feels like nothing else, with the buoyancy of saltwater and that distinct scent of sea air. Itís always smart to check the weather forecasts before swimming in the ocean, but if sudden changes in the weather or waves occur, just get out of the water and as far onto dry land as possible. Even a small ocean wave can take a swimmer by surprise.

A serious issue in ocean swimming is rip currents. Sneaky, unexpected and powerful, rip currents can drag a swimmer out to open water. Even experienced swimmers and physically fit adults may not be able to battle a rip current in action. What can you do if you get caught in a rip current and feel yourself being hauled away from the safety of the shoreline? Hereís how to cope:

  1. Remain calm; panic will exacerbate an already precarious situation.
  2. Gather your bearings, stay calm and begin to swim parallel to the shoreline.
  3. Once you are out of the rip current (you will feel the pulling cease), swim back to shore.

Rip currents are too strong for even the best swimmer to swim back to shore within them. Shaped something like a ramís horns, rip currents occupy a fairly concentrated area and you can get out of that problematic space by following the steps listed above. Dangers like rip currents do not exist in lakes, rivers or swimming pools, so when you go to the beach at the ocean, practice surf safety.

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