Spring Break Survival Tips: Water safety

Christopher Bright, Contributing Writer

Let’s talk about how to stay safe in the water.

If you are going out in a boat or may be spending time near deeper water, be sure to bring a life vest.  Just because you may know how to swim doesn’t mean that accidents can’t and won’t happen.  Always plan and pack safely so you don’t need to be sorry later.

If you will be drinking any amount of alcohol you should always be with at least one friend you trust at all times.  This is definitely important when you’re at the beach and in the water even if you are not drinking.

According to the CDC, there were more than 3,500 unintentional deaths recorded from 2005 to 2009.  Swimming after drinking alcohol can significantly increase your risk of have an accident.  Even if you are in shallow water, it can be easy to be knocked down and sustain an injury to an arm or leg or to hit your head.

Almost any beach that you visit will have some sort of flag warning system that is meant to alert visitors of the condition of the water.

Generally, a black or red flag is flown to show that the water is dangerous and should not be entered due to the presence of severe undertow and rip currents.  An orange flag is flown to tell swimmers that extreme caution should be exercised while in the water due to the chance of experiencing undertow and rip currents.  Finally, a green flag is flown to show the water has been calm and should be safe to enter.

Even if the signal is green, danger may still be present so it is important to know what to do if you should find yourself in trouble with the unfavorable water conditions.

The undertow is the water under the waves that pushes back into the ocean while the waves on top crash in towards the beach.  If you find yourself being influenced by the undertow and cannot keep your footing, do not panic.  The undertow is a fluctuating occurrence and will die down as the waves crash.  Simply let your body be taken with the current until the wave passes then move towards shore when the undertow is at it’s weakest.

Unlike undertows, a rip current normally doesn’t cause a person to go under water.    

Rip currents can occur in many different situations but can are more often seen and can be worse when there are strong winds and strong waves.  If you are caught in a rip current, the flow of the water will begin taking you away from the shore.  Instincts will normally make a swimmer try to swim in a direct line back the way they came from.

However, this is the worst thing you can do as the strength of the current can hold back even the strongest swimmers.  If you find yourself caught in a rip current, do not panic.  Instead of swimming directly towards shore, swim sideways, parallel to the beach.  Eventually you will get outside the rip current and the normal flow of the water will begin to move you back towards land.