The beach north of the Crystal Pier. Photo via Wikimedia Commons
The beach north of the Crystal Pier. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

With Memorial Day weekend kicking off the summer beach and pool season across Southern California, the San Diego Lifeguards offer residents and visitors ten tips for water safety.

The Centers for Disease Control report that ten people die from unintentional drowning every day in the United States. Last year in San Diego, lifeguards performed 6,438 water rescues at city beaches. Here are the lifeguards’ tips for water safety:

1. Learn To Swim. Learning to swim is the best defense against drowning. Teach children to swim at an early age. Children who are not taught when they are very young tend to avoid swim instruction as they age, probably due to embarrassment. Swimming instruction is a crucial step to protecting children from injury or death.

2. Swim Near a Lifeguard. United States Lifesaving Association statistics over a ten-year period show that the chance of drowning at a beach without lifeguard protection is almost five times as great as drowning at a guarded beach.

3. Swim with a Buddy. Many drownings involve single swimmers. When you swim with a buddy, if one of you has a problem, the other may be able to help, including signaling for assistance from others. At least have someone onshore watching you.

4. Check with the lifeguards. Lifeguards work continually to identify hazards that might affect you. They can advise you of the safest place to swim, as well as places to avoid. They want you to have a safe day. Talk to them when you first arrive at the beach and ask them for their advice.

5. Learn Rip Current Safety. Four-fifths of rescues at ocean beaches are caused by rip currents. These currents are formed by surf and gravity, because once surf pushes water up the slope of the beach, gravity pulls it back. This can create concentrated rivers of water moving offshore. Some people mistakenly call this an undertow, but there is no undercurrent, just an offshore current. If you are caught in a rip current, remain calm and don’t fight it by trying to swim directly to shore. Instead, swim parallel to shore until you feel the current relax, then swim to shore. Most rip currents are narrow and a short swim parallel to shore will bring you to safety.

6. Enter Water Feet First. Serious, lifelong injuries, including paraplegia, occur every year due to diving headfirst into unknown water and striking the bottom. Bodysurfing can result in a serious neck injury when the swimmer’s neck strikes the bottom. Check for depth and obstructions before diving, then go in feet first the first time. Use caution while bodysurfing, always extending a hand ahead of you.

7. Obey Posted Signs and Flags. It sometimes seems as though there are too many signs, but the ones at the beach are intended to help keep you safe and inform you about local regulations. Read the signs when you first arrive and follow their direction. Flags may be flown by lifeguards to advise of hazards and regulations that change from time to time. You can usually find informational signs explaining the meaning of the flags, or just ask the lifeguard.

8. Wear a Life Jacket. California State Parks’ Division of Boating and Waterways reports there were 531 boating accidents statewide in 2013. Half of those involved injuries, and there were 38 fatalities, mostly drownings, and most were not wearing life jackets. Most fatalities involve people who never expected to end up in the water, but fell overboard or ended up in the water when the boat sank. Children are particularly susceptible to this problem and in many states children are required to be in life jackets whenever they are aboard boats.

9. At Home You’re the Lifeguard. The Centers for Disease Control report that drownings of children aged 1 to 4 are most likely to happen in a pool. Many of these deaths occur in the few moments it takes a parent to answer a telephone or doorbell. NEVER leave a child alone anywhere near a pool. Make sure it is completely fenced, that the fence is locked, and that there is no access from the home to the pool. Don’t let your child or a neighbor’s child get into the pool when you’re not there.

10. Use Sunscreen and Drink Water. Everyone loves a sunny day, but exposure to the sun affects your body. Without sunscreen, you can be seriously burned. The sun’s rays can also cause life-long skin damage and skin cancer. To protect yourself always choose “broad spectrum” sunscreen rated from 15 to 50 SPF, or clothing that covers your skin, and reapply sunscreen regularly throughout the day. The sun can also dehydrate you quickly. Drink lots of water and avoid alcohol, which contributes to dehydration. Lifeguards treat people for heat exhaustion and heat stroke from time to time. If you feel ill, be sure to contact a lifeguard.

Lee Swanson of San Diego Fire-Rescue provided this beach and pool safety information.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.