5 Tips to Stay Safe at the Beach
As we move into the summer month’s consistent blue skies call us to the sandy shores of Panama’s Pacific coast. Beach bound and carefree, we sometimes forget about our safety. By taking a few precautions we can dramatically reduce the chances of a bad day at the beach. Here are 5 simple ways to ensure you are as happy leaving the beach as you were on the way there. Watch out for ‘agua malas’ While the Spanish word for jellyfish is ‘meduca’, in Panama, jellyfish are fittingly called agua malas (bad water). Jellyfish can be a real nuisance to swimmers and surfers alike. In the height of the spawning season (typically February) the salty waters of the Pacific are often thick with jellyfish and floating pieces of their tentacles. Local surfers refer to the water on days when jellyfish are dense as ‘Sancocho’ - the typical Panamanian chicken soup.
Beach residents have already reported that the jellyfish have started to arrive on pacific coast this year. The best way to find out if the water is clear of agua malas is to ask residents who know the area well. If you see jellyfish washed up on shore, they are probably in the water as well.
To avoid stings, wear a lycra suit or rash guard. However, on days where the jellyfish are abundant it is best to stay out of the water. If you are stung, immediately rinse the wound with saltwater. Alcohol, vinegar or ammonia will neutralize the stinging cells and alleviate pain.
While we love the beach life mentality “no shirts, no shoes, no problem”, it is always a good idea to wear shoes to the beach. Public beach accesses are often littered with broken bottles, and other sharp objects. By wearing shoes on your way to the beach you lower the risk of cutting your feet before you reach the sand.
For extra foot protection in the water and sand, water shoes or reef booties work nicely. Reef booties, originally designed for surfers braving sharp reefs and rocks are thin soled, but still provide that extra layer of protection. Since they were designed to endure crashing waves they are typically more secure and form fitting than water shoes.
Do the Stingray shuffle
Among the many ocean dwellers to be aware of, are stingrays. Stingrays are commonly found on the ocean floor in shallow waters. Areas like the Punta Chame bay are known for stingrays because of their shallow and often calm shorelines.
Stingray encounters are most common during low tide when the water remains shallow for a longer distance offshore. To avoid a nasty sting, shuffle your feet along the bottom when entering the water. By shuffling your feet you will rustle up sand giving stingrays a scare, and time to swim away before your foot lands on one.
If you are stung, the best remedy is to soak the affected area in very hot water for about an hour. The heat will help relieve the pain. If a stingray leaves a part of it’s barbed tail behind, do not try and remove it yourself. It is best to head straight to the emergency room and have a doctor remove it for you.
Leave your valuables at home
The most common items to go missing at the beach are purses, phones, wallets and cameras. Try to avoid bringing a purse or flashy bag to the beach; this will deter a quick grab by someone hoping the contents are of value.
The best way to avoid having valuables stolen is to simply leave them at home. If you absolutely must bring an item of value, find a populated area on the beach to stash your things. If you are alone, try asking a family or group of friendly looking beach goers to keep an eye on your things while you go for a swim. If you are with a group of friends, take turns watching the goods.
A popular trick for hiding valuables is to wash out an old sunscreen bottle and hide things like your cell phone and keys inside. Thieves are less likely to snatch a bottle of sunscreen then they are a purse or knapsack. However, watch out for that person picking up recyclables to keep the beach clean.
Know what to do in a riptide
A riptide is a strong channel of water that is moving out to sea, typically through the surf line. Riptides can be very dangerous, especially if swimmers or surfers are not equipped with knowledge of how escape them. It is equally important to know how to help someone else caught in a riptide.
A riptide will not pull you underwater. It will pull you away from shore. You can identify a riptide by looking for a line of sea foam, seaweed or debris flowing steadily out to sea. A riptide can also be identified as a channel of choppy water, different in coloration breaking the incoming wave pattern.
If you are able to identify a riptide, avoid entering the water in this area and remain a safe distance away from it while in the water. If you find yourself caught in the riptide do not panic. Do not attempt to swim or paddle to shore, rather swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the area affected by the riptide.
If you notice someone stuck in a riptide do not swim out after him or her. If you are at a beach where there is a lifeguard on duty first notify them. If not, throw anything that floats into the riptide, it will float towards them. If they are within a distance in which they can hear you, yell directions on how to escape. If they are unable to hear you, enter the water from a safe entry point and coax them diagonally towards you.