While spring is only halfway done, that doesn’t mean it’s too early to begin looking forward to beach trips.   Some of my best childhood memories are of spending time with my toes in the sand or splashing around in the waves with happy relatives.  I didn’t have a care in the world beyond trying to body-surf the next wave into shore.

But now I’m the adult.  Being responsible for others means you need to take safety concerns into account.  Here’s some beach safety tips for kids that will help you and your children have a memorable – and safe- trip to the sand and surf.

Check Water Conditions Ahead of Time

Before you let your children head into the water, make sure that the conditions are safe.  Undertow is dangerous for anyone, but can be particularly troublesome for children.  Ideally, you should check the beach conditions before you head out in the morning.  If this isn’t possible, make sure you look for flags at the beach indicating high waves, strong winds or under currents.  If you don’t feel comfortable, look for a lifeguard  – they will be glad to let you know the current beach conditions.

You should also check to see what the UV forecast is like for the day.  In the United States, this is as simple as entering your zip code into the widget available here.   You’ll need this information to know how long unprotected skin will take to burn.  Here’s a table giving you some time-to-burn estimations for a fair-skinned individual.

Sunburn Times By UV Index

UV Index Time To Burn Preventative Actions
0-2 60 minutes Wear SPF 15 sunscreen
3-4 45 minutes Wear a minimum of SPF 15 sunscreen. SPF 30 is recommended.
5-6 30 minutes Wear SPF 30 sunscreen; sunglasses recommended.
7-9 15-20 minutes Wear a minimum of SPF 30 sunscreen; sunglasses should be worn
10 + 10 minutes Wear SPF 40+ sunscreen; sunglasses, a hat and protective clothing recommended

Protect yourself from the sun

Sunscreen early and often

A beach day is going to be fun and memorable – but it will also expose you and your children to a load of harmful UV rays from the sun.  Here are some steps to mitigate teh risk.

First, you need to just resign yourself to the idea that applying sunscreen is an ongoing affair.  Even in the best of conditions, sunblock eventually sweats off and becomes ineffective.  The beach is not “the best of conditions”.  Children coming in and out of the water really need frequent reapplying to avoid sunburn.  It’s recommended you reapply after every trip out of the water.  Unless you are a robot dedicated to following your children’s every move, that’s not very realistic – but the higher the UV index, the more on-top of reapplying you are going to need to be.

Make your own shade

I know most of us don’t go to the beach to avoid the sun, but it’s sure nice to be able to get out of it if needed  Luckily it’s easy to bring your own sunblocker.  There are numerous solutions for just this problem – there are sunshades and great beach tents that are available which provide a respite from the sun while allowing the breeze to blow on through.

Food and drink safety

Leave the egg salad at home

I know how particular some children’s palate can be – but the beach isn’t the place to bring the cheese sticks or yogurt tub.  In fact, you should try to avoid packing any perishable items for a day to the beach. This is especially true if you aren’t bringing along a cooler and ice.  The sun will quickly heat up your food to temperatures that are prime for breeding unhealthy bacteria and other problem organisms.  If you’ve never had to drive home from the beach with a stomach-sick child in tow – trust me, it’s not something you want to do.  Stick to non-perishable food items.  Peanut butter sandwiches are one safe choice.

Water is essential

A day spent under the unrelenting gaze of the sun really requires fresh water.  Soda and juice are child favorites – and many parents enjoy an adult beverage or two as well – but water is really the best choice for keeping hydrated on a hot day.  You’ll sometimes need to remind your children to drink because they’ll be having so much fun playing, but constant hydration is important.

Water can also easily perform double duty.  If sand or another mess needs to be washed away, you’ll be glad you brought water.  Hi-C or Cola doesn’t clean very well.

Swim and Beach Safety

Once you’re at the beach, there are a few rules you can follow to help ensure your child’s safety and a fun day to be had by all.

Have a talk before hitting the sand

Even if you’ve gone to the beach many times in the past, you should review the safety rules with your children every time you head out.  While some of these rules of thumb seem to be common sense to you, children need to know you think they are important.  Repetition will help to solidify that idea in their young minds.

In addition, kids sometimes forget.  A younger child might be embarrassed to ask a question for fear of an older sibling teasing them for forgetting.  A quick review of the safety rules will make sure everyone in the family is on the same page.

The ‘Knee-Or-Lower’ rule

One rule many families follow is to have younger children stay in water that is knee-depth or below.  This rule allows children to quickly get their head above water if they fall. They should be able to keep their mouth above water just by sitting up – baring too rough of water.  Children should also be in PFD’s or lifejackets when in open water.

Of course, older children and good swimmers might have a different rule – you’ll need to know your own children’s particular strengths and weaknesses.  Make sure all your children know they need to stay in shallow water where they are comfortable – and only to try venturing out if an adult is present and says it’s ok.

Remind your children it’s not worth risking their life to chase out into deep water for their favorite beach ball or other toy.  Toys can be replaced.

The ‘Buddy System’

This rule makes sure someone is looking out for each person in the water.  Beyond it being more fun to have another adult or child to play with, there will be someone available to get help if something goes awry.  It’s also reassuring to know that no one will truly get lost in the crowds at the beach – if two people are together, at least they have each other to lean on when they try to find where home base is set up.

Don’t Fight Undertow

Riptides (aka undertow) can be a very scary experience – especially if you don’t know anything about it.  Educate your children that undertow is a strong current that you shouldn’t fight against.  Rather, if you get caught in the riptide one should work to swim parallel to the beach until they feel the current relent.  At that point, they can swim back into shore.  Fighting againt the rip will only tire a swimmer out and can lead to real danger.

Jellyfish are neither fish nor jelly

If your beach is on the ocean, it’s likely at some point you’ll need to deal with jellyfish.  Remind your children that even the dead ones can pack a might sting, so it’s best to avoid the species altogether.  While experience is a great teacher, getting stung by multiple jellies is one lesson I wish I would have never been taught.

Know your surroundings

Remind your children that some water hides structures that can be potentially harmful.  Reefs can quickly cut skin.  Diving into unknown water is a major cause of spinal cord injuries.  Rocky shores can be dangerous if the wind and waves suddenly pick up.

All of these risks can be mitigated, but you and your child need to be aware of them in order to make safe choices.

Children Can Be Safe At The Beach

The beach should be a place where great memories are made, and fun is had by all.  A beach trip is one of the great traditions of summer.  You can have a great time and keep your family safe if you take the right preparations.

Are there any more beach rules that your family uses to ensure a safe and fun time?  Let us know below in the comments.