The odds of drowning at a lifeguard-protected beach are slim, but swim where no guard is stationed and your odds of drowning are many times greater, according to national statistics.
Lifeguards made more than 54,000 rescues at U.S. beaches in 1999, according to the U.S. Lifesaving Association (USLA). And only 11 people drowned at guarded areas.
What can you do to avoid a scare — and the chance, however small, of being that one unlucky statistic among millions?
Talk to a nearby lifeguard and ask, "What are the conditions?" and "Where's the best place to swim?" suggests Newport Beach, Calif., paramedic Bob Pingle.
And follow these additional tips from the USLA:
- Swim Near a Lifeguard. Otherwise, you're gambling with your life.
- Know How to Swim. Learning to swim, and teaching children the skill while they're young, is one of the best defenses against drowning.
- Never Swim Alone. That way, one person can help or signal for assistance if the other meets with trouble. If no one swims with you, at least have someone watching from the shore.
- Don't Fight the Current. Some 80% of rescues are due to rip currents. Don't swim against their pull, but parallel to the shore.
- Swim Sober. Alcohol can impair swimming ability and lure people into unreasonable risks.
- Don't Float Where You Can't Swim. Non-swimmers can drown quickly if they fall off an inflatable raft. Be aware that even close to shore, there can appear sudden deep spots called "in-shore holes" that can endanger a non-swimmer who just wants to wade.
- If You Dive, Protect Your Neck. Check for depth and obstructions before diving, and always extend your hands in front of your head. And never turn your back to the ocean; watch for oncoming waves so they don't catch you off-guard.