Surfers at Pacific Beach. Photo by Tim Shell via Wikimedia Commons
Surfers at Pacific Beach. Photo by Tim Shell via Wikimedia Commons

The upcoming 4th of July weekend will mark some of the busiest days of the year for San Diego beaches, and lifeguards are gearing up to ensure everyone is able to enjoy the break safely.

Despite mild conditions—air temperature in the low 70’s and 2 to 3 feet swells from the southwest—lifeguards do expect some rip currents over the weekend to be dangerous for young children or inexperienced swimmers.  Last 4th of July weekend, about one million people visited the beach and San Diego Lifeguards performed 468 water rescues and upwards of 10,000 preventative actions.

In order to minimize the number of water rescues required this 4th of July weekend, San Diego Lifeguards have issues the following safety tips to prevent drownings and other incidents:

  1. Be sure you are comfortable swimming and never swim alone:  Many drownings involve single swimmers, so swimming with a buddy reduces your risk for hazardous water incidents.  Also be sure to have someone onshore watching you.
  2. Swim near a lifeguard and check in often:  The United States Lifeguard Association (USLA) reports that the chance of drowning at a beach with a USLA affiliated lifeguard on duty is only 1 in 18 million, while that chance of drowning is about five times greater at a beach not monitored by lifeguards.  San Diego Lifeguards also recommend that swimmers frequently check in with them at the beach and ask for advice about current swimming conditions in order to further reduce their risk of water incidents.
  3. Learn rip current safety and obey all posted signs and flags: 80% of lifeguard rescues at ocean beaches are caused by rip currents, formed by the interaction of surf and gravity.  If you are caught in a rip current, lifeguards say to remain calm and don’t try to swim directly to shore. Rather, swim parallel to shore until the current relaxes, and then return to the shore.  Posted signs or flags will often alert swimmers to rip currents or other water dangers, so always listen to lifeguards’ posted warnings.
  4. Always enter the water feet first: Serious injuries occur every year when swimmers dive headfirst into unknown water and strike the bottom. Never dive before checking for depth and obstructions, and go in feet first the first time you enter the water.  Lifeguards also urge swimmers to use caution while bodysurfing, and always extend a hand ahead of you to avoid head injuries.
  5. Wear a lifejacket:  The California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW) reports that 81% of drownings from boat accidents occurred when individuals were not wearing lifejackets. Most incidents involved people who never expected to end up in the water, but fell overboard or ended up stuck treading water when the boat sank.  The DBW requires that there be one life jacket per passenger on ever water vessel, and that all children under the age of 13 wear a lifejacket at all times while on any boat less than 26 feet long.
  6. Use smart and polite beach etiquette:  Lifeguards recommend anyone expecting sun wear “broad spectrum” sunscreen, ranging from 15 to 50 SPF, and reapply regularly throughout the day.  Drink lots of water to avoid dehydration, and be careful with alcohol intake, which further contributes to dehydration.  Pick up after yourself on the beach and in the water to keep beaches clean for other swimmers and safe for birds, fish and animals.
  7. Stay safe at home, too:  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that drownings for children ages 1 to 4 are most likely to happen in a pool.  Never leave a child alone anywhere near a pool, and make sure any pool or hot tub is completely fenced so children cannot enter without parent supervision.