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EXTENSION CONNECTION: Beach Safety – Know before you go

A recent family reunion on a beach in Destin had me thinking about beach safety. While there, we experienced both yellow and red flags flying, indicating the presence of rip currents in the area. We also had daily purple flags, indicating the presence of marine pests, in this case, jellyfish. 

We also had several afternoon pop-up thunderstorms that impacted our visit. None of these completely ruined our beach vacation, but it does help to have some advanced knowledge of the severity of these threats and what to do when they happen to you.

Lightning

Lightning kills 20 or more people in the United States each year, and hundreds more are severely injured.

Florida averages seven fatalities per year due to lightning and often leads the nation in lightning deaths.

Lightning is a real beach hazard, and the second greatest cause for lightning fatalities are beach activities like fishing, sunbathing, and camping. 

If planning a day at the beach, be sure to monitor the forecast and radar ahead of time, keep a watchful eye in all directions and have a vehicle nearby to evacuate to at the first sign of a thunderstorm.

Rip Currents

This chart on rip currents shows ways to remove yourself from a rip current.

There are an average of 100 annual fatalities in the U.S. attributed to rip currents (U.S. Lifesaving Association). In 2021, there have been seven surf zone fatalities in Florida with five here in the Panhandle.

Rip currents are strong, narrow, seaward flows of water that extend from close to the shoreline to outside of the surf zone. They are found on almost any beach with breaking waves.

The best way to avoid getting caught in a rip current is to follow the safety flag warning system and swim near a lifeguard.

Jellyfish

In the water, jellyfish are the most common summer pest. 

Sea lice, the larval form of the thimble jellyfish, is a common near shore pest this time of year.

Keep some household vinegar in your beach bag for immediate relief if you get stung. Rinsing in warm or hot water is a good second approach. Once home, you can treat the sting with a hydrocortisone cream. If you have a serious reaction, don’t hesitate to contact Emergency Medical Services.

For more information on these topics, visit:

  • Lightning safety – https://www.weather.gov/safety/lightning.
  • Rip currents – https://www.weather.gov/safety/ripcurrent.
  • Jellyfish – http://nwdistrict.ifas.ufl.edu/nat/tag/jellyfish/.

Laura Tiu

Laura Tiu is an agent at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension office in Crestview.

This article originally appeared on Crestview News Bulletin: EXTENSION CONNECTION: Beach Safety – Know before you go