It’s mid-July and though the weather has been less than ideal, summer is still a time to enjoy. Living on the South Shore, we are fortunate to be neighbors of the Great South Bay. But with that comes responsibility when it comes to safe swimming and boating. We must also remember never to drink and drive on our way home from all the summer festivities.
Below we compiled a number of summer safety tips given by local villages, the Suffolk County Police Department and lifeguards.
Riptide safety tips
What is a riptide?
According to Patchogue Village and Islip Town licensed lifeguards, a riptide is defined as a narrow current of water that sweeps swimmers out, caused by converging currents of water from waves, tide, and outward water flow. They are caused by winds and waves being pushed towards the land.
According to Mark Taormina, supervisor, Town of Islip Sports & Aquatics Division, what makes a riptide so dangerous is that “it sweeps the swimmer away from the shoreline while simultaneously tiring the swimmers out who are trying to fight it.”
“It could pull people offshore into deeper water,” added Nick Constantino, Patchogue Beach Club manager and lifeguard.
How can they be spotted?
“They are lighter-colored swirls, sometimes foamy, always lighter than the darker water surrounding it,” explained Taormina.
Constantino said they always have white foam on the outside between the waves and usually have fewer breakers between the waves.
“It’s little ripples at the surface surrounded by calm water,” he said.
What to do if you are caught in one
If you are caught in a riptide, swim parallel to the beach, and if you get exhausted while swimming, wave to the lifeguard for help. Never swim against it.
“You will run out of energy and drown,” Constantino cautioned. “Relax, let the current take you out and float on your back. Swim parallel to the shore, then swim in.”
The worst-case scenario, he said, is to panic. Also, he suggested that those rescuing the person never swim directly at them, or else they will be sucked out, too. Instead, have something to throw out to them to pull them back in.
“Reach or throw, never go,” he said.
To avoid the issue altogether, Taormina suggests swimmers stay within their ability level and recognize that the ocean is always in control. Constantino suggests only swimming while lifeguards are on duty, checking the UV index and to look for high and low tides as well as the wind speed and direction. Also, always check the flags to make sure it’s safe to swim.
Taormina added to encourage children to have a buddy system, make sure someone knows you are going into the water, and to ask the lifeguards about the swimming conditions.
Also, he said, “When in doubt, don’t go out.”
Drinking and driving or boating prevention
Prevention, according to Suffolk County Police Department chief Bob Brown, is key. Some 10,000 fatalities occur every year due to drinking and driving, he said, also noting that due to the department’s enhanced educational programs, that number is lower than years prior.
He suggests assigning a designated driver any time you are planning to drink. Having a plan, he said, is a huge factor. If death isn’t enough to scare you, there are severe penalties for drinking and driving or boating. Though the punishments are complex, he said, the basic .08 DWI has a minimum fine up to $1,000 and a year in jail, which doesn’t include hidden legal fees and license revocations.
“If it’s a repeat offense or there are injuries, the penalties are much more severe,” he said, also explaining that insurance companies hike insurance fees for offenders as well.
But mainly, he said, it’s just so dangerous.
“When people are drinking and driving or boating, it is dangerous for everyone on the road, not just the person who has been drinking,” he said. “Whatever happens on a boat, you can’t just get out; there is a whole other situation. These are enjoyable things, but you got to get there safely.”
Just this month, he added, there were two fatalities on the water from boating incidents, one of which was the result of alleged alcohol use.
Use a proper SPF (sun protection factor) above 15 and make it waterproof. Sunblock should also be reapplied every two hours or so. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, sunblock is effective at preventing skin cancers and pre-cancers. Regular use can reduce your risk of squamous cell carcinoma by about 40 percent and melanoma by 50 percent.
Who should wear it? Everyone.
When to apply it? Everyday 30 minutes, before going outdoors.
Where? To all exposed skin areas.
How much? About one ounce for the entire body.
What is the best kind? Mineral sunscreen or chemical. According to the Foundation, both are safe and most companies on the market often use a mixture of both.
People outside should use SPF even when it is cloudy and should always also consider covering up with a hat or light clothing for even greater sun protection.
The Village of Patchogue Parks and Recreation Department offers free sunscreen and hand sanitizer in all village parks. Each station is supplied with SPF 30 Coppertone Sport. The sunscreen is waterproof and sweat-proof.
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