Bill Baggs lighthouse beach is a popular Key Biscayne beach
By: Kara Franker
Learn about important ocean safety tips for swimmers.
Famous for crystal clear water and soft white sand, Miami’s beaches have beckoned swimmers and sunbathers for years. But remember that the ocean is still a force of nature that sometimes presents conditions and situations that are beyond anyone’s control. Here’s what you need to know if you’re planning on swimming in the ocean in Miami.
Hang Out by the Lifeguards
Not only are the lifeguards easy on the eyes, they’re there to help keep the beach a safe place for locals and visitors alike. In fact, in the history of the ocean rescue team on Miami Beach, they’ve saved more than 300 victims from drowning and performed more than 350,000 preventative actions. Stick close to the ocean rescue crew and only swim where you see a lifeguard standing watch.
Watch for the Color of the Flag
While the Miami Beach lifeguard stands are decked out and painted in bright colors and Art Deco glory, it’s the flags that you really need to pay attention to:
• Red with a line crossing out the swimmer = it’s too dangerous to swim, so don’t do it.
• Red = danger lurks and that could mean high surf and/or strong rip currents.
• Yellow = it could be worse, but you should watch out for moderate surf and/or currents.
• Green = get in there! Green means go and enjoy the calm conditions, but still be mindful and exercise caution.
• Purple = our waters are teaming with vibrant sea life, but some of them are dangerous, so watch out.
Know How to Spot and React to a Rip Current
Rip currents exist all along Miami’s beaches, and honestly, they can be deadly. It’s a characteristic of any ocean, so let’s review what to do. Currents are caused by an excessive amount of water that’s like an underwater stream. They can form in any large open water area, such as shallow areas and breaks in sandbars or near piers, jetties and other structures.
Rip currents are usually visible from the shore and you can tell that they exist by the following characteristics:
• Sandy-colored areas indicate that a rip current is forming by washing out sand from the bottom as the water flows.
• Darker-colored water defines a deeper area and layers of dark water may indicate that a rip current has already formed.
• Lines of moving seaweed or foam could indicate a rip current.
• Choppy water that looks like a washing machine could indicate the formation of a rip current.
• A windy day could indicate a surge in rip currents.
If you find yourself caught in a rip current the best method of escape is to swim perpendicular to the pull of the current, then swim to shore once you’re free from its effects. If you’re unable to escape by swimming, then float or tread water. If you feel you are unable to reach the shore, call out and wave your arms for help.
Lifeguards are experts at spotting them, so pay attention to the ocean rescue team and they can point out where not to swim.
Don’t Hang Out by Marine Life
The ocean is home to a vast array of wild animals. Most of those colorful sea creatures are completely harmless, but some can cause injuries to humans. Usually it’s a defensive mechanism, but with that said, crabs do pinch and stingrays and jellyfish can sting.
If you see a brightly colored blue and purple balloon-like creature, don’t touch it and just swim away. Those are Portuguese Man o’ War jellyfish and they can deliver a painful sting. If you do get stung, stay calm and go see the lifeguard —they have special products on hand to help.
We rarely have any shark encounters in Miami, but they do live in the Atlantic Ocean, so just be aware and exercise caution.
Top 10 Beach Safety Tips
1. Only swim at lifeguard-protected beaches with designated swimming areas.
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2. Stay alert, look for the colored flags and check local weather conditions.
3. Never swim alone, even if you're a confident swimmer.
4. Inexperienced swimmers and young children should wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets and always be supervised.
5. Leave marine animals alone and watch out for plants and sea life that can be dangerous.
6. Stay at least 100 feet away from piers and jetties where rip currents are common.
7. If you’re caught in a rip current, stay calm and swim perpendicular to the current.
8. When lightning or a storm is approaching, leave the water immediately.
9. When in doubt, enter water feet first. Diving head first and bodysurfing can result in serious neck injuries.
10. Don’t forget to reapply water resistant sunscreen early and often.
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