Guest Column: Basic Beach Safety Tips
David B Shoar
St Johns County Sheriff
As our schools close for the summer and the price of gas continues to rise, many residents will not be traveling elsewhere for vacation; instead, they will enjoy the 42 miles of beaches St Johns County has to offer.
I would like to pass along some tips in this month’s column. Never swim alone and if possible swim near a lifeguard. If you or a family member does not know how to swim, take lessons. Swim lessons are offered through the St. Johns County Recreation Department or the local YMCA. By only knowing how to float in the water may compromise your safety during an emergency.
Many swimmers panic if they are caught in a rip current. If you or a fellow swimmer finds yourself in a rip current, do not fight it. Swim parallel with the beach until you are out of the current and then swim towards the shore. Be sure to watch your young children constantly and do not become distracted by talking on your cell phone, reading or taking a nap. Your attention should be focused on your children at all times. Children as well as teenagers should always be aware of their surroundings and if someone tries to take you somewhere, quickly get away while yelling and screaming. Children should try to stay in a group, remember there is safety in numbers. Because our youngsters cannot always lookout for themselves, it becomes our responsibility to teach them how.
Pay attention to the posted signs on the beach. They are designed for our safety as well as to protect the environment. Remember drinking alcohol is not permitted on all St. Johns County Beaches. To protect your head and neck, never dive headfirst into the ocean. Many beaches in this area have coquina rock buried in the water and serious injuries could occur when diving.
The American Red Cross adds some additional tips for beach safety. Protect your skin: Sunlight contains two kinds of UV rays — UVA increases the risk of skin cancer, skin aging, and other skin diseases. UVB causes sunburn and can lead to skin cancer. Limit the amount of direct sunlight you receive between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. and wear a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 15. Drink plenty of water regularly and often even if you do not feel thirsty. Your body needs water to keep cool. Avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine in them. They can make you feel good briefly but make the heat’s effects on your body worse. This is especially true with beer, which dehydrates the body.
Watch for signs of heat stroke: Heat stroke is life threatening. The person’s temperature control system, which produces sweating to cool the body, stops working. The body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly. Signals of heat stroke include –Hot, red, and usually dry skin, but in some cases such as during athletic activity while wearing a helmet, the skin may be moist. Changes in consciousness. Rapid, weak pulse, and rapid, shallow breathing. Call 9-1-1 and move the person to a cooler place. Quickly cool the body by wrapping wet sheets around the body and fan it. If you have ice packs or cold packs, place them on each of the victim’s wrists and ankles, in the armpits and on the neck to cool the large blood vessels. Watch for signals of breathing problems and make sure the airway is clear and keep the person lying down.
Wear eye protection. Sunglasses are like sunscreen for your eyes and protect against damage that can occur from UV rays. Be sure to wear sunglasses with labels that indicate that they absorb at least 90 percent of UV sunlight. Finally, wear foot protection. Many times, people’s feet can get burned from the sand or cut from glass in the sand.
During the summer months, we have a tendency to be complacent by leaving our vehicle doors unlocked and windows open. This is an obvious invitation to criminals to steal our personal items from the inside of the vehicle, especially when using the parking areas near the beach. Remember to always close your windows and lock your doors when you go to the beach. Always remove loose change and valuables from your vehicle. This includes purses, wallets, cell phones, laptop computers and briefcases. Some of these items could be locked in your trunk and out of sight. Also, park in an area that has people coming and going to the beach. The average criminal does not want to be seen. Remember if you see something suspicious; please contact your local law enforcement agency immediately.
I hope that these tips will help you and your family has a fun and safe experience at one of our beautiful beaches. For additional tips on general Crime Prevention, please go to the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office website at www.sjso.org. There is a world of information available and please feel free to contact me anytime at my e-mail address at firstname.lastname@example.org.