Swimming Safety on the Grand Strand

By

A dip in the surf is as relaxing and therapeutic as it gets.

Until it isn’t.

While frolicking in the ocean in Myrtle Beach is by and large a safe activity (just look at the sheer number of folks who partake without incident), it’s essential to follow some protocols to keep you and your kin happy and unharmed.

Keep the kids close. Only the strongest of swimmers ought to venture out unattended. Anyone less than very experienced shouldn’t go in any farther than waist-height. Waves and undertows can topple little (and big) ones and make it hard to gain footing. Changes in current also create steep drop-offs in sand, so taking just one step may submerge you. ALL children who can’t swim or are new swimmers should wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved flotation devices (Puddle Jumpers or a child-size life vest). A parent or guardian needs to remain with small kids, even while wearing a flotation device. Keep visual contact with older, stronger kids at all times.

Stay away from piers. This is for several reasons. One, the current is stronger by piers, and a rogue wave could easily send a swimmer into a pole or out to sea. Two, fishermen and women flock to piers and are casting out constantly. Getting hooked? Ouch. Three, all that dropped bait attracts sharks. Yes, we said it. While shark attacks are extremely rare, a flopping body by a food source may confuse the shark and prompt it to take a nibble. Not good. Instead, find a spot away from the piers and close to other swimmers in the sight lines of a lifeguard. Which brings us to…

Talk to a lifeguard. Find an on-duty lifeguard (they are often patrolling the beach on an ATV) and ask him or her where the safest spot to swim is that day. The guard will know where any rip currents have been identified, and if there has been a shark or jellyfish sighting. But if you aren’t able to talk to a lifeguard…

Identify rip currents. Rip currents form when weak waves and strong waves occur side by side. Channels of strong currents form, which can move anywhere from 1 to 8 feet per second. They are the No. 1 hazard for beach-goers, especially for those less strong or nonswimmers, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Talk to a lifeguard first, but also look along the shoreline for an area with different water color; seaweed, foam and other debris moving out to sea; breaks in incoming waves; and channels of choppy water. If caught in a rip current, don’t fight it. Remain calm and swim parallel to shore. When out of the current, head to shore. If you are having trouble, face the shore, wave your arms and call for help. Rip currents don’t pull you under water, but instead out to sea, so drowning occurs when swimmers panic, become exhausted, or fight the current. See //www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov for more information.

Weigh the pros and cons. You’re at the beach, you’re hot, and it’s a beautiful day. But the waves are huge and the undertow strong. Go with the safest option and sit along the shore where the surf meets sand. You’ll enjoy the water without actually being at its mercy. Head back the following day and you may be looking at a completely different — and safer — swimming day.

While this isn’t a safety concern per se, it is a helpful hint: do not feed the birds. Trust us. You’ll know why as soon as you do it.

What about you guys? What’s your best safety tip for the beach?

(posted 7/16/14)