In South Africa, the December holidays are synonymous with sun, sand and sea. It is the time of the year when many families make their way to the beach. For those travelling with youngsters, this can be an exciting but also stressful time, with safety one of the main concerns. Here are a few tips for keeping your little ones safe at the beach.
On the beach
1. Lost children
Every year, children are left behind on South Africa’s beaches. In fact, New Year’s Day 2015 saw at least 500 children separated from their families on Cape Town beaches, according to City of Cape Town officials. Crowded beaches make it tough for young ones to find their way back to their parents and so they end up being left behind.
To avoid losing your little ones in the crowd, it is best to keep sight of them at all times. For older kids, agree to meet at a particular spot should you get separated. Another good idea is to have your child wear a rubber armband inscribed with his/her name and your number.
2. Dangerous treasures
Hidden ‘treasures’ in the sand can sometimes be dangerous. Broken glass, tin and plastic can be hazardous for small children especially. Make sure you check the area where you are sitting and sift through the sand before your child starts building sand castles. Also keep a small medical kit in your beach bag for cuts and scrapes. Wet wipes are always useful, too. Explain to your little ones that they have to be on the lookout and call you if they find any objects besides seashells.
3. Harsh, damaging UV rays
A healthy dose of Vitamin D is always good, but harmful UV rays can cause skin damage, heat exhaustion and dehydration. For little ones, a high factor sunblock is necessary, as well as a big sunhat to protect their face and eyes. Cover their shoulders with a T-shirt or opt for two-piece bathing suits, especially those that factor UV protection into their material. Also keep your little ones hydrated by packing water bottles, juice and snacks. This is one occasion when ice cream may be a great option to stay cool and hydrated!
4. Hazardous rock pools
Rock pools are home to small fish, sea stars, crabs, sea snails and more. They provide a great way for kids to explore the ocean. But walking on sharp rocks or stepping on poisonous sea creatures can be dangerous. Protect your little one’s feet with proper hiking shoes or takkies that grip well even when wet.
In the water
5. Safe swimming
Drowning can happen in the blink of an eye. Did you know that babies and toddlers can drown in as little as 5cm of water? Besides keeping your eyes on your children at all times when they are in the water, there are a few extra precautions you can take to keep them safe. Firstly, make sure your child (and this goes for you, too) stays between the marked flags as indicated. Lifeguards know their beach and its currents, and think of all the factors that can make swimming safer. Have your child wear a coloured bathing suit so you can easily spot him/her in the water. Leave inflatable pool objects at home, as they are easily blown out to sea. Also opt for a spot near the lifeguard station. This gives you quicker access to help in case of an emergency.
6. Dangerous sea creatures
There are numerous hazards in the ocean besides sharks, which are a well-known but rare concern. Jellyfish and bluebottles are more frequent visitors and also dangerous. Their sting is not only painful but could be fatal, especially if your little one is stung on the neck or chest. It is a good idea to have a (clearly marked) bottle of vinegar on hand. Vinegar is used to neutralise a sting and bring immediate relief. Lifeguards are on the lookout for jellyfish, bluebottles and sharks, and will indicate if there is danger by blowing a whistle or waving swimmers out of the water.
7. Read the signs
Keep your family safe by always keeping an eye out for signs that tell you more about the beach. In Cape Town, a black shark flag, for instance, indicates that spotting conditions are poor. A white flag indicates that a shark has been spotted. Also take note of what is allowed on the beach to ensure a pleasant experience for all.
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