Beach Safety Basics

Gauging the safety of your summer swimming area.

Q: We're vacationing in an oceanfront town this month. Is there any way to check the beach's safety record beforehand?

A: "Currently, there is no national database containing safety information or any requirement for people to report incidents at a beach or waterfront," says Connie Harvey, health and safety expert for the American Red Cross in Washington, DC.

There is, however, an annual beach report issued by the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York City that details water monitoring practices, standards, and testing methods in 32 states and territories and also reports on whether local authorities notify the public when pollution is discovered. Go to and search for "testing the waters" to see whether your destination has been assessed.

To help determine how safe a beach may be before you arrive, Harvey suggests calling the local beach patrol, parks and recreation department, or chamber of commerce and asking the following: Is the beach protected by lifeguards? How big is the beach, and how many guards protect it? How is the water quality? (You may be directed to the local health department for this answer.) Are the surf conditions posted?

When you arrive at your destination, ask the beach patrol more specific questions about the area's layout (is there a gradual slope or a sudden dropoff into deep water?) as well as its flag system (certain flags indicate heavy currents, others designate calm water). Also inquire whether there are any particular dangers to worry about, such as riptides or jellyfish.

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Copyright © 2001. Reprinted with permission from the August 2001 issue of Child magazine.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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