Beach Safety

Beaches are no doubt a lot of fun – lazily spending a day under the sun soaking up the rays, watching boats go by, having a picnic and doing some swimming is the picture of an ideal vacation. But the ocean commands respect, and if that respect isn’t given, it can put a damper on your perfect vacation.

Beach chairs and umbrellaGordon Miller is the North District Lifeguard Supervisor at the Cape Cod National Seashore. He’s worked there since 1985 and has seen it all. We asked him what tourists should look out for when enjoying the beaches of Cape Cod.

He said on the beaches with surf on the Lower Cape, from Orleans to Provincetown, swimmers should be aware of the surf breaking on the beach. Since it’s all sand, a safe area to swim might change frequently.

“The sand is moved around throughout the year by tides, storms and wave action,” says Miller. “The dynamism is extreme. An area that might have been calm early in the season, could be very different or even dangerous a month later.”

Moving sand also plays a part in creating rip currents, which are something to be cautious about. Rips are formed when surf is high. The water gets pushed into the beach by waves, then has to exit through the lowest point, often a channel between raised areas of sand in the water.

“It’s all about water volume. It has to exit at the lowest point, and this can create a dangerous situation for swimmers,” says Miller.

If you find yourself caught in a rip current, remain calm and don’t struggle against it. You’re on a one-way magic carpet ride out to sea. The trick is to exit that water pathway by swimming parallel to the shore, where you can then swim back in calmer water.

At some beaches, (Chatham) you’ll see signs warning of sharks due to the increased seal population in recent years. The threat is minimal, and there’s only been one shark incident where a shark gave an exploratory bite to a swimmer that was 150 yards from the beach, where seals swim. Statistically, you have a higher chance of being killed by a vending machine falling on you than getting killed in a shark attack.

Beach SafetyMiller reminds people all the time that they may need to slow it down and don’t cram too many activities into a day on the Cape.

“You’re on vacation, this is not home. People overextend themselves with excitement, hurry and lack of preparation for the day. They skip breakfast and don’t drink enough water, and that’s how visitors end up with an overheating problem. Pace yourself.”

Above all, Miller said he recommends a lifeguarded beach on the National Seashore, of which there are many.

“Your safety level increases exponentially. Ask a lifeguard about hazards that day before you swim. They’re happy to tell you about any concerns they have,” says Miller.

Gordon Miller started working for the National Park Service while attending the University of Memphis. He has lifeguarded at Acadia National Park in Maine, Lake Mead, Nevada, and has been at the Cape since 1985. He spends his winters instructing other lifeguards on lifesaving techniques in Lahaina, Maui.

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About the Author

About the Author: Pat Barcas serves as staff writer and photographer for RTX Traveler Magazine, based in Asheville, NC. His favorite RTX destinations are on the beach: Orange Beach, Alabama, New Smyrna Beach, Florida, and Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. .

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