Living in St Ives, we spend a LOT of time on the beach. My kids have spent more time playing on the beach than in any playground or play park. We all love it, even in the depths of Winter. But we are aware of the dangers it can pose, especially on busy hot days in the height of Summer.
Here are my top 10 beach safety tips to help you stay and play happily on the beach for hours on end.
1. Only Use A Lifeguarded Beach If You Are Going In The Sea.
I would NEVER EVER let my kids go swimming in the sea if there wasn’t a lifeguard around. I may be a crazy, over-cautious parent, but it just isn’t worth the risk. According to the RNLI you are 500 times less likely to drown on a lifeguarded beach.
The RNLI website gives you all the information you need about which beaches are lifeguarded including the times and dates they are there.
Every time the lifeguards are back on Porthmeor Beach, we have a big chat with my 6 year old about the flags and what they mean. We also tell her that the lifeguards are there to help her and to go to them if she gets lost. They are so clearly visible on Porthmeor Beach it definitely gives her a bit of security.
Get your kids to learn what the flags mean and to never go into the water if there is a red flag showing.
2. Designate A Lost Point For Your Kids.
Our local St Ives beaches get really busy in the Summer. Porthmeor especially can look like windbreak city. Imagine being a small child playing there – you can easily step away from your family, look up and feel lost.
We always establish a “lost point” as soon as we get down onto the beach. This is a clearly marked place our kids know they can go to and wait.
On Porthmeor we always say the Lifeguards station or St Ives Surf School. They are both next to each other, so either one is fine. They are both easy to see and the people that run it are really kind and helpful.
We haven’t had to use it yet…
3. Slip, Slap, Slop.
Having lived in Australia (a long time ago), their campaign to slip, slap, slop has always stuck in my head. Slip on a rash vest, slap on a hat and slop on the sunscreen. The sun is really quite harsh down here in Cornwall. Maybe it is something to do with the St Ives light? I’ve burnt myself in March sitting out of the wind on the harbour beach. I’m very careful with my blonde kids to always have them covered with sunscreen and rash vests. The hats are a little less effective as they rarely stay on heads.
4. Drink Lots.
No, I’m not talking about Rattler or Doombar. I mean water or squash. Little kids can quickly become dehydrated on the beach when playing out in the sun for long periods of time. It does sound like something you would recommend in the Med or Tropics. However, the sun and wind here can really dehydrate you without you realising it. Your kids (and grownups) will thank you for that bottle of water!
5. Don’t Use Inflatables.
Inflatables are a bit of a bug bear with me. They are great in the right water – mainly swimming pools! And maybe the very calm waters of the Med. PLEASE don’t use them in our Cornish seas. The combination of tides, rough waves, offshore winds and rips just send shudders down my spine. Inflatables just aren’t very safe here. If your children want something to play with in the sea, give them a body board.
Just have a look at the lifeguards faces when they see people heading off to the sea with a big inflatable flamingo or crocodile. You can see inside their heads they are screaming nooooooo! (or maybe uttering something rude and unrepeatable!).
6. Watch the waves.
On Porthmeor Beach at high tide when the sun is setting in the Summer you often see little kids at the shore line jumping the waves. It looks amazing fun, but please please don’t take your eye off them for a second. Those high tide waves are super powerful and can knock a grown man off his feet. There is also a strong suck back which is really frightening.
I know I sound like a big old party pooper, but I’d hate for anything awful to happen to your little ones. Or big ones come to that!
7. Check tide times.
Make sure you know whether the tide is coming in or out. I’ve lived here for nearly 7 years and still sometimes can’t work it out by looking at the sea whether it is coming in or out on first glance.
There are lots of great places round the coast to explore at low tide. However, you can get cut off at high tide. By understanding what the tide is doing and where it comes up to when high you will stay safe. Getting cut off by the tide contributes to a significant number of RNLI rescues every year!
A place around St Ives where it is really easy to get cut off is around Porthminster Point. At very low tide you can sometimes walk right across it, but it does come back in at a rush. Likewise some places in the harbour can be a bit treachorous.
8. Wear a wetsuit.
Yes I am soft (no I am not Southern) and I do wear a wetsuit 90% of the time I go in the sea. I find it just too cold to stay in the sea for any period of time without it. Anything below 15°C is defined as cold water and our average sea temperature is only 12°C. So it is COLD!
Kids especially don’t notice the cold. They are often so caught up in playing they don’t register that they are shivvering. And so you end up with little creatures with blue lips! On a more serious note, cold water can seriously affect your breathing and movement and can cause you getting into difficulties. If your kids are swimming or surfing, get them into a wetsuit.
You can buy wetsuits relatively cheaply these days, or you can hire them from the local surf club. I know they aren’t the easiest things to get in and out of, but your enjoyment of playing in the sea will override the unpleasant twang of neoprene.
9. Things that sting!
It is rare to be stung by anything in the sea in the UK. However, we do have quite a few critters around Cornwall that can give you a nasty sting.
Weever fish are small, sandy-coloured fish that usually lie buried in the sand on the seabed. They have poisonous spines on their back and gills that can sting you, usually on your feet or hands.
If you have trodden on a weever fish, put your foot into very hot water for 30 – 90 mins. Pull out any spines you can see with tweezers. Take paracetamol.
Jellyfish seem to be getting more prevalent in the UK in the Summer months. Around Cornwall we get Moon, Compass, Blue, Lion’s Mane and Barrell Jellyfish. Their tentacles will give you a mild and uncomfortable sting.
If you have been stung by a jellyfish, remove any remaining tentacles using tweezers or a stick (or gloves). Apply heat or immerse the area affected in hot water. Vinegar only works on box jellyfish stings, which thankfully we don’t have in the UK. Please ignore the advice to urinate on the affected area. The heat may help a tiny bit but hot water is much better! Take paracetamol or ibuprofen to help with any pain and swelling.
Please don’t pick up jellyfish on the beach – even if you think they are dead. They can still sting you.
Sea urchins are small, round sea creatures with a bony shell covered in spines. They’re usually found in the shallows, on rocks and in seaweed. Sea urchin spines are hard, sharp and can cause puncture wounds. Between the spines are small organs, containing a poison that’s released as a defence mechanism.
If you have trodden on a sea urchin, put your foot into very hot water for 30 – 90 mins. Pull out any spines you can see with tweezers. Take paracetamol for the pain.
Portuguese Man Of War
A Portuguese man-of-war is a large, poisonous jellyfish-like creature (although it’s not actually a jellyfish) with a large purple-blue, gas-filled bladder and tentacles that hang below the water. The sting can be painful, but rarely causes death.
At the end of last Summer we got HUGE amounts of Portguese Men Of War on the beaches around here. Porthmeor Beach was littered with them, all sadly dying. They are amazing looking things, but please don’t be tempted to touch them.
If you have been stung by a Portuguese Man Of War, clear away any tentacles using tweezers, a stick or gloves. Rinse the area with sea water (not fresh water). Soak the affected area in hot water which will ease the pain. The pain should only last 15 – 20 minutes.
With all of the above stings, please seek help from the lifeguards if possible. If you cannot remove the spines of weever fish or sea urchins properly you will need to go to the local walk in medical centre. If you start to feel unwell, have difficulty breathing or have a severe allergic reaction, please call 999!
10. Understand Rip Currents.
Rips are strong currents running out to sea. These can quickly take you from the shallows to right out of your depth. In the UK, the majority of RNLI Lifeguard incidents involve rip currents. They are a major cause of accidental drowning on beaches all across the world.
Rips can be tricky to spot so it is always worth asking the lifeguard if there are any about.
If you do find yourself caught in a rip:
– Never swim against it, it is stronger than you are, even if you are an Olympic swimmer!
– If you are not out of your depth, stand up and wade.
– Stay with your board if you have one.
– If you are too deep, swim PARALLEL to the shore until you are free from the rip. Then swim back to shore.
– Raise your hand and shout for help.
There is often a rip off Porthmeor Beach. If you are going surfing or paddle boarding, or doing any proper swimming, ask the lifeguard to tell you where it is.
11. Watch Your Kids On The Rocks
The rocks on Porthmeor Beach lure my kids like no climbing frame ever does. They always feel compelled to climb them and play on them. The helicopter parent in me silently screams “get down” but I know in the main they will be safe.
It is far safer to climb the rocks in bare feet. Your feet will grip the rocks far better than sandals or smooth soled shoes. Trainers or wetsuit boots are good too. Just make sure your kids are wearing the right thing. Something that will grip rather than slip.
Likewise, if your children are climbing over the rocks to go rockpooling, stick them in wetsuit boots. There are sharp rocks and spikey things which could hurt them!
12. Look Out For Seagulls!
If you have only spent 5 minutes in St Ives you will already know how pesky the seagulls are. In the height of Summer it is pretty much impossible to eat anything in the open on the beach.
Don’t let your kids eat their lunch out in the open. They WILL get attacked and it can really hurt them. The St Ives seagulls are big and strong and their claws and beaks are so viscious.
If we are planning to eat on the beach, we always bring with us a little beach tent. We stick the kids in there and they can munch and crumb away without the worry of seagull attacks.
13. Don’t Bury Kids In The Sand
It is really good fun burying Mum or Dad in sand. As adults it is not a problem to heave ourselves out. If you ever have had this done to you, remember how much effort it took to pull yourself out? It is pretty much impossible for kids, once they have been buried to a certain level. It gets worse if the sand is very soft, such as that on Hayle Beach by the dunes. It all just caves in on itself and makes digging people out really hard. I’m not wanting to be a scare-monger, but a little girl died on Hayle beach as they couldn’t dig her out. She suffocated in the sand. There have also been reports of people near-drowing after being buried in sand and the tide has rushed in over them.
14. Always Take Your Rubbish Home With You
Okay, this one isn’t a beach safety tip, it is a bit of an ask/rant.
Please, please clean up after yourselves after a day on the beach. The amount of people who don’t do this is gobsmacking. Presumably they spent the day there because they thought it a beautiful spot. So why turn it into a rubbish dump for everyone else?
Likewise smokers, don’t stub your cigarette out and bury it in the sand. That is just horrid. There is nothing more disgusting than sitting down on the sand, running your fingers through it and finding an old cigarette butt. I’m not sure what you think happens to them when you stick them in the sand? They certainly don’t vanish into thin air.
Okay, that was a bit of a rant and you probably can tell I hate litter on the beach. There is enough litter washing up onto our beaches anyway, regardless of the beach goers. The amount of plastic debris on the tideline is shocking. In the main it is all pretty much plastic.
There are lots of local beach cleans around St Ives and Cornwall. We try to join in with them whenever we can – come and volunteer if you are about at the right time.
One thing we are doing with our kids is to encourage them to clean up the beach. After every beach visit we always do a quick litter pick around us. We all try to find 5 pieces of rubbish (bonus points for plastic) to take home with us and dispose of.
None of this information is meant to dampen your enjoyment of being on the beach by the sea. Yes, there are dangers out there but the vast majority of people visit the beach each year incident free!
If you have any beach safety tips you would like to share with us please do add your comments below x