Around the Alabama Gulf Coast, water enthusiasts head out to play every day. They fish, kitesurf, swim, paddleboard, kayak, and more in the bay and off the beach. If you grew up in the waters around here, you probably know the ins and outs of ocean safety.
For newcomers to the area, a quick refresher course may help. Knowing these tips could save your life.
- It’s always farther than it looks. Drownings happen in lakes and oceans every year, because people misjudge the distance to a nearby island, a sandbar, or a boat. In the ocean, in particular, swimmers must consider the tide, current, and distance when swimming away from shore. Until you gain firsthand knowledge of the distance between two points, assume your goal is farther than it looks and either avoid the swim or pace yourself in a life-threatening situation.
- Sear the rules of swimming out of a riptide into your brain. Riptides cause swimmers to panic every year, because they don’t expect the undertow to pull so strongly. If you can’t avoid a riptide, you can tread water, ride it out, and then make your way back to shore when the current circles back to shore OR try to swim parallel to the shore to break away from the outward pulling current. Avoid panicking and focus on maintaining your buoyancy at all costs. Riptides can be unexpected and deadly, even in seemingly calm waters.
- Rethink a peaceful morning swim. Some people imagine beach life as a cinematographic experience where they can wake up and go for a swim out in the ocean alone every morning. In reality, you may want to skip that picturesque morning routine. First, even seasoned swimmers agree that swimming alone in the ocean is a bad idea; and, second, sharks tend to hunt in the early morning and late in the evening. While the risk of a shark attack is relatively small, you don’t want to face one alone at sunrise.
- Explore the area before diving, bodysurfing, paddle boarding, etc. Unseen obstructions can turn a fun ocean outing into an injurious situation. Swim around new areas or snorkel to identify hazards lurking below the surface and avoid shallow spots during sports activities.
- Do the stingray shuffle. Rays and skates will defend themselves if you step on them, and it hurts. Rays have barbed tails and skates have thorn-like protrusions on their backs. Shuffle along the bottom to give these sea creatures fair warning.
- Take lightning seriously. Lightning on the beach is as beautiful as it is deadly. At the first sign of a strike, head indoors. In most cases, the storm will pass quickly, taking the lightning with it. Dozens of people in Alabama experience lightning strike injuries every year.