How To Stay Safe In The Water On A Beach Holiday

A holiday at the beach not only helps people to relax and recharge, it also provides us with a range of health benefits which can have a positive impact on our lives. Many people who choose to head off on a beach holiday to relax and recharge are unaware of the dangers they potentially face.

The size and strength of the surf, treacherous rips, gutters and dangerous marine creatures can pose significant risks for inexperienced beachgoers. Before looking at ways in which we can play safe in the water, lets first consider just how beneficial spending time by the seaside can be.


Salt And Sea Air

The sea air is not only invigorating but it's healing as well. For centuries people have taken to coastal towns around the world to alleviate allergies and respiratory problems, particularly those suffering from asthma.

Sunlight, Natures Anti-Depressant

Sunlight increases the body's levels of serotonin, which in turn elevates our mood and makes us feel happier. That’s why many people feel down or depressed during the colder winter months particularly if they lack sunlight.

A Beach Holiday Increases Fitness Levels

Think about it, the leg muscles have to work extra hard when walking along the beach, particularly in dry sand. Taking regular beach walks in combination with swimming in the ocean assists to increase our fitness levels.

A Beach Holiday Calms And Refreshes

Nature has a powerful effect on people, and the many benefits have been proven. It's well known that feeling the warm sun on our skin and the sound of the ocean gently hitting against the shore encourages us to relax and feel calm.

Natural And Free Spa Treatment

The salt and magnesium in sea water helps to moisturize our skin and heal a number of chronic skin conditions, while the salt and sand make an excellent natural exfoliant.

Increase Vitamin D Intake

Sunlight provides the body with lots of vitamin D. In these 'modern times' it's now acknowledged many of us are becoming deficient in this vitamin as we slave away our work days inside office buildings spending too many hours indoors and missing out on the sun's beneficial rays during daylight hours.


General Beach Safety

Alcohol And Swimming

Some people might look to consume a few drinks when enjoying their holiday at the beach, however its important to understand that swimming when under the influence of alcohol can be a recipe for disaster.

Alcohol impairs a persons judgment and significantly reduces a persons reflexes, making it a dangerous and potentially deadly combination when it comes to the surf. Each year, lifesavers and lifeguards around the world are tasked to rescue swimmers from near to death situations after a person has entered the water after consuming alcohol.

Consuming alcohol can lead to:

• Impaired judgement, prompting swimmers to take unnecessary risks as they often overrate their ability in the surf.

• Consuming alcohol at the beach can adversely impact a swimmers ability to identify and manage dangerous situations.

Lack of coordination and reaction time

• Alcohol often affects a person's senses including sight, sound and touch both in and out of the water.

• Alcohol often makes it longer to react to situations due to a decrease in brain response and an ability to hinder a person to process information.

Inability to control temperature

• Overheating at the beach can often result due to dehydration and unawareness of sun exposure.

• The opposite - hypothermia could also result, depending on conditions.

The risks of swimming after to consuming alcohol are high. Common sense dictates that a person shouldn’t drink when swimming, boating or fishing in any aquatic environment.

Beach Safety

The world is filled with many exotic and iconic beaches, picture postcard locations which beckon the international traveler with the lure of relaxation and fun. Not all swimmers are aware of the potential dangers they may encounter as for many this may be their first or second visit to the ocean. The size and strength of beach conditions can vary widely, with unpredictable rips, gutters and dangerous marine creatures, posing a significant risk for swimmers.

So it's important to know how to protect yourself in the water and understand the warning signs and flags (if swimming at a patrolled beach) to ensure you remember your trip to the beach for all the right reasons and not all the wrong ones.

The red and yellow flagged areas of beaches are set up by qualified surf lifesavers and lifeguards. Many popular tourist destinations around the world offer these safe havens for visitors to the area. These locations represent a safe place to swim than that of un-patrolled areas. Lifesavers and lifeguards consider a number of factors when determining the area to be suitable or otherwise including wave height, rip currents, wind, and swell directions.

When visiting a beach it is important to always swim between the red and yellow flags. There are also a number of signs that lifesavers or lifeguards may use to communicate with swimmers,in order to warn them of any hazards. Some of these may hazards may include dangerous surf, closed beaches, and marine stingers or poisonous jelly fish.

Remember too, when at the beach or in any aquatic environment, children must be fully supervised both in and around the water’s edge. Learning to swim is a skill for life and one everybody should learn.


Rip Currents

Rip currents are one of the greatest hazards on many beaches. Lifesavers and lifeguards perform countless rescues each and every year to assist swimmers who have been caught in rip currents. The majority of drownings trace back to rip currents. Deaths have occurred after swimmers begin to panic and, contrary to recommendations to swim parallel to shore, they attempt to swim against the current directly back to the shoreline.

This leaves swimmers exhausted and unable to remain afloat. Rip currents have also been responsible for claiming the lives of non-swimmers who were dragged from shallow and waist deep water into deeper surf.

How To Identify A Rip Current

The key signs to look for are when identifying a rip current are:

  • Deeper and/or darker water.
  • Fewer breaking waves.
  • Debris or seaweed.
  • Significant water movement.
  • Sandy colored water extending beyond the surf zone.

Sometimes it can be easier to look for where waves are breaking consistently, then look to each side where they don’t break consistently. Those areas are rip currents.


Waves And Large Surf

Playing among the waves can be one of the most enjoyable things to do when swimming in the ocean. Different conditions can affect waves, so it’s important to understand how waves work, what types of waves may be present when you visit the beach and how to deal with them to reduce any potential for injury or death.

How do waves get so big?

Wind Strength:

The stronger the wind, the bigger the waves.

Wind Direction:

Wind needs to push waves towards the beach for there to be surf. Sometimes beaches are also protected by headlands or reefs which stop waves from reaching the beach.

Wind Duration or Fetch:

The distance the wind has been blown over the ocean. The bigger the fetch, the bigger and cleaner the surf will be.

The Breaking Wave:

When the swell reaches shallow water it pushes itself upward until the slope of the crest cannot support itself. This is when the wave will break. There are three types of breaking waves, each with their own key characteristics.

On any beach there will usually be a combination of these three wave types breaking. Plunging or dumping waves create a hollow tube feature when they break. Surfers call this the ‘barrel’ or ‘tube’. Plunging waves are particularly dangerous as they can pick people up and ‘dump’ them onto shallow sandbanks or reefs with great force.

Spilling or rolling waves are found where there are flat shorelines. These are generally safer types of waves. They occur when the crest breaks onto the wave face itself. Surging waves may never even break as they approach the water’s edge since the water is very deep. They are commonly seen around rock platforms and beaches with steep shorelines. Surging waves are considered dangerous as they can appear suddenly and knock people over before dragging them back into deeper water.

Creatures That Sting, Stab And Strike

Blue Ring Octopus

The blue ring octopus is very small creature growing to a maximum size of 20 centimeters when its tentacles are fully extended. The blue ring octopus weighs in at only 100 grams and like all octopuses, it has a soft sack-like body and eight arms covered with suckers.

Its beak or mouth is the only hard part of its body, so it's able to squeeze through very tiny spaces. A blue-ring octopus is usually light-brown or dark yellow in color, however it rapidly changes color when agitated. Its body becomes bright yellow as iridescent blue rings or bars appear as a warning to predators.

Blue-Ringed-Octopus One very angry Blue Ring Octopus

Where do they live?

They live amongst tidal pools and coral reefs in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, from Japan to Australia.

Why are they dangerous?

They are one of the world’s most venomous animals, yet despite its small size the blue ringed octopus carries enough venom to kill 26 adult humans within minutes. The venom is contained within their saliva which enters a person's system once bitten.

How to avoid them?

When exploring rock pools - look but don’t touch. The blue ring octopus is so small and well camouflaged that they can be extremely difficult to see. Don’t touch any small octopuses as they might be a blue-ring and by the time you see the telltale rings, it’s too late!

What to do if you get hurt?

Call an ambulance immediately. Apply a pressure immobilization bandage to the bite site. Start, and continue CPR. Even if it doesn’t seem to be working...keep going. The patient might survive if you can keep their heart beating until the poison wears off and they can suddenly start breathing on their own again.

Cone Shell (Conus geographus)

The shells of the cone shell are shaped like an ice-cream cone, bright in color and beautifully intricately patterned which attracts beachcombers to pick them up. Inside the shell lives a small snail. The part of the snail that appears outside the shell is its foot used for movement. Its a siphon which draws in water for the snail inside to breathe, and has an inbuilt tooth or snout used for hunting and defense.


Where do they live?

They can be found in the Red Sea, in the Indian Ocean off Chagos, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique and Tanzania. The cone shell are indigenous to the reefs of the Indo-Pacific region, except for Hawaii and are frequently found in and around most coastal areas of Australia in shallow water, sand flats and rock pools.

Why are they dangerous?

One sting from a cone snail has the potential to kill 15 healthy adults within hours. The venom of the cone snail has neuro-toxins which specifically affect vision and speech. Cone shells have harpoon-like darts which can deliver paralyzing venom via their tooth. This venom can cause nausea, weakness, numbness, tingling and affect movement, vision, hearing and speech. The venom also stops lungs from working which can lead to death.

How to avoid them?

Do not pick up any cone shaped shells even if they are washed up on shore. There is no safe way to pick up a cone shell as their tooth can reach all parts of the shell.

What to do if you get hurt?

Call an ambulance and seek urgent medical assistance. Apply a pressure immobilization bandage and provide CPR as necessary.


The lionfish is a beautiful looking fish covered with a stripy pattern which can be red, brown, orange, yellow, black or white. They have long feathery fins which hide their large poisonous spines.


Where do they live?

Lionfish usually live on coral reefs, in caves or crevices and especially in shallow waters. They are found all around Australia and in the Caribbean and Mediterranean Sea.

Why are they dangerous?

Lionfish have 13 sharp and venomous spines which can produce painful puncture wounds. Their venom causes intense pain and in the worst case once stung, the person experiences headache, vomiting, stomach pains. A sting can stop arms, legs, lungs and the heart from working properly.

How to avoid them?

If you don’t touch, scare or tease a lion fish it is unlikely to injure you. Lionfish can be aggressive, so if you see one stay a safe distance away from it.

What to do if you get hurt?

Put the area most often a hand or foot into hot water and seek immediate medical assistance.

Sea Snakes

Sea snakes look like much like their land based relatives, but have developed some adaptations to marine life. The most obvious is a flattened, paddle-shaped tail which is used for swimming. Inside, they have a right lung almost as long as their bodies which allows them to spend long periods underwater, but they eventually have to surface to breathe air. Sea snake species come in many different color combinations including black and yellow, grey, pale brown and black and white.


Where do they live?

Sea snakes live close to shore in warm tropical waters throughout the world. Some prefer to live on reefs, while others may prefer mud flats. Some sea snakes can swim up rivers and may be found up to 160km inland.

Why are they dangerous?

Sea snakes are equipped with an extremely toxic, fast acting venom which is used to catch fish to eat before they can escape. Once bitten, a swimmer may not even realize it as their bite is said to be painless. The venom of a sea snake makes the recipient of the bite feel nauseous and dizzy. Other symptoms may include headache, vomiting, aching muscles and in severe cases breathing may also be affected.

How to avoid them?

Sea snakes are curious, and are attracted to any sign of motion in the water. They may approach a diver or swimmer, but they are shy and usually keep their distance. If you see one, keep calm and move away slowly. Do not interact with them, as attractive as this prospect may be.

What to do if you get hurt?

Treatment is the same as for ordinary snake bite. Call an ambulance immediately, apply a pressure immobilization bandage and reassure the casualty. Keep the patient still. Obtain medical assistance as soon as possible as there is an antivenin available in many countries for those who have been bitten.


As the name suggests, the stonefish looks like a rock. They are a greenish brown color and have bumpy skin which helps them to camouflage among rocks on reefs. Typically a stonefish has 13 grooved spines on its back and is approximately 30 centimeters in length.


Where do they live?

The main habitat of the stonefish is on coral reefs, around dull colored plants near rocks, or they can be found sleeping in the mud or sand. They are found all around the Australian coastline and throughout regions of the Indo-Pacific including Vanuatu, Fiji and Micronesia.

Why are they dangerous?

The back of a stonefish is lined with spines that release a venomous toxin, making it the most dangerous fish in the world. Its venom causes very severe pain and swelling and can kill body tissue and stop the arms and legs

working properly, placing the human body into shock. Always seek medical attention quickly as the sting is very serious and in rare cases, has been fatal.

How to avoid them?

Wear thick soled shoes and shuffle feet when walking in the shallows. Don’t pick up rocks on reefs as they might not really be a rock, but a stonefish.

What to do if you get hurt?

Request an ambulance immediately. Place the affected area in hot water to relieve the pain and seek urgent medical attention.

Source/Credit: Surf Lifesaving Queensland


Sandra Hawkins

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