Here comes Summer! Who doesn’t love the coast? Salty air, sandy toes, sunny skin and happy smiles. But have you ever thought about what to do in an emergency at the beach?

With so much FUN to be had on holiday, safety is easily overlooked yet on paper the beach and sea could be deemed a pretty unsavoury place; millions of tons of pounding water, sinking sand and mud flats, cliff edges, potential rock falls, pools to drown in, shells and glass to cut feet on, not to mention stinging creatures and sunburn..

But don’t be put off!

Welcome to my fun new series on things to do at the beach starting with safety first; this comprehensive family safety guide shares top tips on how to stay safe at the beach with kids and the dog, including jellyfish stings, rip tide survival and even doggy sunblock!

Here’s how to keep your family beach and sea safe: –

1. Dial 999 for The Coastguard

Above all, know who to call If the worst happens – if it’s beach, coast or sea, dial 999 and ask for the Coastguard. They will contact other emergency services if necessary.

Image of Circular Red Sign Stating Water Cliff Mud Emergency Call 999 Coastguard

2. Choose a Beach With Lifeguards

Marine Conservation Society has a list of all UK lifeguarded beaches, click the link and add your postcode. The list also includes clean blue flag and dog friendly beaches etc.

3. Know Your Water Safety Flags

Lifeguarded beaches use coloured flags to identify safe areas for bathing, surfing and watersports. It’s no good if you don’t know what they mean..

Red flag – NO swimming
Red & yellow striped flag – safe to swim and body board between flags
Black & white chequered flag – NO swimming, area for surfing and windsurfing only

Image of UK Water-Safety-flags-in red, red & yellow and black & white with flag safety meaning written underneath

Additionally a green flag (rarely seen) means low hazard, and a white and blue flag at sea indicates divers are below the surface in this location.

4. Identify & Escape Rip Currents

Rip tides (also known as rip currents or undertow) are a major coastal hazard for bathers and surfers. They are hard to identify so the best UK advice is to stick to lifeguarded beaches and keep within the flags.

If you do get caught in a rip then float, don’t fight it and see the detailed advice on how to escape a rip current and learn to identify them, in my rip tide survival guide, where you can sign up for a free rip tide safety printable.

⚠️ Show the whole family so everyone knows the procedure if they get caught in a rip. ⚠️

Image of wide sandy beach with white water either side of smooth water in centre

5. Water Shock

If you fall into open water (off a cliff or harbour wall say, as opposed to being caught in a rip when you’re already in the sea) you should try to stay calm and float for 90 seconds. This helps the body adjust to the water temperature and allow water shock to dissipate. Read the science from the RNLI Float to Live campaign.

NB – this is REALLY HARD! I tested the theory in the North Sea recently, during the heatwave, which I chose to be in rather than having fallen in(!).

Trying to relax and float for 90 seconds while feeling blooming cold is a real challenge. Try it next time you’re at the sea, it will help it stick in your head in case you ever need to do it in earnest!

6. Tide Times

Knowing if the tide is going in or out should be a major factor when choosing to enter the sea whether swimming, surfing, boating or diving.

Image of girl in wetsuit and buoyancy aid with brown and cream bear in green kayak paddling in clear water

Always check the tide times when visiting the beach, especially when walking the coastline.

7. Weather

Weather can change quickly at the coast so check the forecast before you leave the house.

8. Inflatables

Never use inflatables in strong winds or rough seas. Only use them in sheltered water, rockpools etc and if you must use them in open sea with children, attach a long rope to the inflatable anchored to an adult on shore.

Image Of Toddler Holding Fishing Net While Sitting In Inflatable Dinghy In Shallow Rockpool At Beach

9. Quicksand/Mud

If you get stuck in quicksand or mud do not stand up.

Lie down, spread your weight, shout for help and try to move slowly towards shore with a breaststroke action or lie and await help.

10. Stings

Keep your eyes open for jellyfish and weaver fish which give a nasty sting. Waterproof shoes or wetsuit boots are great foot protection when swimming or walking in rock pools and watch for dogs getting stung too.

NB – anecdotal information from a reader suggests that applying vinegar to jellyfish stings neutralises the sting quickly. Worth trying if hot water fails. Weaver fish stings can’t be calmed with much except hot water though.

Image of Compass jellyfish swimming in clear sea water on beach

How to Treat a Jellyfish or Weaver Fish Sting

  • Seek help from a lifeguard if possible
  • Rinse the sting area with seawater, remove any spines if still embedded
  • Soak the area in the hottest water you can bear for 30 minutes – use hot towels or flannels if you can’t soak e.g. a sting on the stomach
  • Take Paracetamol or Ibuprofen if needed

Read the NHS guidelines on when to seek medical attention for stings.

11. Dogs at The Beach

Choose a dog friendly beach – not all beaches allow dogs and some only at certain times of year

Fresh water – always take fresh drinking water and a bowl for your dog

Image of black-and-white-dog-squinting-in-the-sun-lying-on-sand-dune

Salt water poisoningdrinking salt water is dangerous for both humans and dogs. Most dogs won’t touch it but if yours is daft enough to try, please stop it in time!

Ingested sand – this can block a dog’s intestines and cause serious harm requiring veterinary treatment. Try to avoid your dog eating sand (though I know from our pooch’s post-beach poops that this can be unavoidable. To date he’s not suffered from any accidentally eaten sand whilst retrieving tennis balls but other dogs might!)

Consider sun cream! – our Aussie neighbours put sunblock on the sensitive area of their Collie’s nose to avoid burning and potential melanoma (common in animals in Australia). Worth considering if your dog has a thin or patchy coat

Useful Links

Kids of the Wild Rip Tide Survival Guide

RNLI National Drowning Prevention Campaign

Coastguard Safety Campaign

Follow the Maritime and Coastguard Agency on Facebook

Beach Safety Guidelines Overview

  • Remember 999 for the Coastguard
  • Don’t forget the suncream!
  • Check the weather
  • Check tide times
  • Choose a lifeguarded beach
  • Know your flags
  • Avoid rip currents
  • Learn how to escape a rip tide
  • Secure inflatables to an adult on shore
  • Keep a safe distance from cliff edges to avoid falls

Don’t miss the rest of this great series on Things to Do at The Beach – sign up to Kids of the Wild now and receive every new post via email, or follow us on Facebook.

Forthcoming articles include a surfing birthday party, shipwrecks, sea glass, rocky shore safaris, snorkelling, Goggling(!), coastal jobs, wetsuit reviews, scuba diving, wildlife, the RNLI, days out, crafts, beachcombing. puffins, whales, seals and litter picks.

It’s going to be a great summer at the seaside. Enjoy and stay safe!