Stay safe at the beach

Experts provide tips on how to prevent drowning and water-related injuries.
As paddleboarding becomes more popular, safety experts are reminding families about the inherent risks of water sports. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Summertime in Michigan means beach time, but trips to the beach aren’t always fun in the sun.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 3,500 people die each year from drownings unrelated to boating. An additional 332 people die each year from drownings in boating-related incidents.

Among those who drown, about 1 in 5 are children younger than age 14.

Families can enjoy Michigan’s natural resources by following some simple safety tips, said Tammy Middlebrook, MD, with Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital Pediatrics.

“When people are swimming in a lake, they need to remember to not go in past their level of comfort,” Dr. Middlebrook said. “If you can’t touch the bottom, then you’re out too far.”

You should also take waves into consideration.

“If you’re just barely touching the bottom, a wave can come and sweep you off your feet,” she said.

Water hazards

Stand anyplace in Michigan and you’re never more than 85 miles from at least one of the Great Lakes. On any afternoon, there’s a sure route to fun and recreation.

But U.S. Coast Guard crews are quick to remind beachgoers about the need to respect the water.

“Even though they may be a good swimmer, there are obstacles on Lake Michigan such as waves, rip currents and rocks under the surface of the water,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Adam Castonia of Coast Guard Station Ludington.

And it’s not just swimmers who need to be cautious.

With the recent popularity of stand-up paddleboarding, the Coast Guard is seeing more people who need to be rescued after falling off their boards.

“When operated outside of a designated swimming area, paddleboards are considered a vessel under Coast Guard regulations,” Castonia said. “When outside of those areas, paddlers over the age of 12 must have a life jacket onboard. They aren’t required to wear it, although the Coast Guard recommends everyone on a boat or paddleboard to always wear a life jacket.”

Paddlers age 12 and under are required to wear a lifejacket when paddling outside of swimming areas, Castonia added.

Sunny days

The water isn’t the only thing that creates hazards. Exposure to the sun can also be dangerous.

“While at the beach, people should wear sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher,” Dr. Middlebrook said. “Wearing sunglasses, a hat, having a coverup and a beach umbrella will protect people against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.”

People should also avoid staying at the beach in direct sunlight for too long, especially during the peak UV hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Staying hydrated will also help ensure your trip to the beach is safe.

“Drink lots of water before going to the beach and while at the beach,” Dr. Middlebrook said. “You should avoid sugary drinks at the beach because the more sugar you drink, the more dehydrated you can get.”

Healthier snacks such as crackers, pretzels, fruits and vegetables should also be part of your beach basket on a hot summer day.

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