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Beach Safety

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As lifeguards, it is our responsibility to ensure the safety of beach visitors by monitoring and reporting hazards, as well as assisting those in need of help when they are in danger. This section of our web site is designed to inform you of some of the conditions which may exist in Virginia Beach and to suggest ways of preventing yourself from getting into dangerous situations. Remember to always check with the lifeguard before you enter into the ocean.

Quick Tips

  • Learn to swim: it's fun!
  • Always swim near a Lifeguard.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Check daily with a Lifeguard about surf conditions.
  • Don't overestimate your swimming ability--know your limitations.
  • Never drink alcohol and swim--alcohol and water don't mix.
  • If you are caught in a rip current, remember to swim parallel to shore.
  • Keep a safe distance away from jetties and piers.
  • Never dive in shallow or unknown waters.
  • Avoid sandbars or drop-off areas.
  • Swim only during daylight.
  • Always be aware of your ocean surroundings including marine life.
  • Protect yourself from the sun. Use sunscreen and wear a hat.

Beach Safety Information

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.

Swim Near a Lifeguard: USLA statistics over a ten year period show that the chance of drowning at the beach without lifeguard protection is almost five times as great as drowning at a beach with lifeguards. USLA has calculated the chance that a person will drown while attending a beach protected by USLA affiliated lifeguards at 1 in 18 million (.0000055%).

Never Swim Alone: 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. Always ask lifeguards about ocean conditions.

Don't Fight the Current: USLA has found that some 80% of rescues by USLA affiliated lifeguards 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, 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. Know your ability.

Swim Sober: Alcohol is a major factor in drowning. Alcohol can reduce body temperature and impair swimming ability. Perhaps more importantly, both alcohol and drugs impair good judgment, which may cause people to take risks they would not otherwise take.

Leash Your Board: Surfboards and body boards should be used only with a leash. Leashes are usually attached to the board and the ankle or wrist. They are available in most shops where surfboards and body boards are sold or rented. With a leash, the user will not become separated from the floatation device. One additional consideration is a breakaway leash. A few drownings have been attributed to leashes becoming entangled in underwater obstructions. A breakaway leash avoids this problem.

Don't Float Where You Can't Swim: Non-swimmers often use floatation devices, like inflatable rafts, to go offshore. If they fall off, they can quickly drown. No one should use a floatation device unless they are able to swim. Use of a leash is not enough because a non-swimmer may panic and be unable to swim back to the floatation device, even with a leash. The only exception is a person wearing a Coast Guard approved life jacket.

Don't Dive Headfirst, Protect Your Neck: Serious, lifelong injuries, including paraplegia, occur every year due to diving headfirst into unknown water and striking the bottom. Body surfing 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; and use caution while body surfing, always extending a hand ahead of you.

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