Enjoy Miami’s Beautiful Beaches Safely
Miami’s beaches and shorelines are packed year-round with locals and tourists alike. Whether it’s the wide beaches of Key Biscayne and Miami Beach or the mostly underwater paradise of Biscayne National Park, fun by the water’s edge is essential to life in South Florida. The lifeguard stands of Miami Beach are an attraction on their own, but they also serve the crucial function of giving lifeguards the ability to see a large area of the beach and water’s edge at once. On the beaches, on occasion, signs will be posted with warnings about rip tides or dangerous currents, the presence of jellyfish and other dangers. It is very important to pay attention to those signs and abide by posted warnings.
Additionally, every beach in the state uses the same flag system of warnings:
- A Double red flag means the “beach is closed to swimmers.”
- Single red flag means “high hazard” because of high surf and/or strong currents.
- Yellow flag means “medium hazard” with moderate surf and/or hazards.
- Green flag means “low hazard” and calm conditions.
- Purple flag indicates the presence of dangerous marine life.
The following tips from the American Red Cross will make every trip to the beach a fun and safe one!
Swimming in the ocean takes different skills, so it’s best to learn how to swim in the surf. Swim only at a lifeguard-protected beach, within the designated swimming area.
While at the beach, keep alert and check the local weather conditions. Don’t swim while drinking, and don’t swim alone; have enough energy to swim back to shore.
Other beach safety tips to keep in mind:
- Have young children or inexperienced swimmers wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets in and the around water. No one should use any other type of floatation device unless they are able to swim.
- Don’t dive headfirst – protect your neck. Always check for depth and obstructions before diving, and go in feet first the first time.
- Pay close attention to children and elderly persons when at the beach. Even in shallow water, waves can cause a loss of footing and a fall!
- Keep a lookout for aquatic life. Water plants and animals may be dangerous. Avoid patches of plants. Leave all animals alone, no matter how cute they are. As for sharks, according to the Miami-Dade beach safety site, sharks are far less likely in South Florida’s waters than jellyfish, Portuguese man-o-war or stingrays. Lightning striking you is more likely than getting bitten by a shark!
Special note about sea turtles: South Florida is fortunate to be the breeding ground for several types of endangered and threatened sea turtles. Beach staffers do their best to rope off the nests of eggs with bright yellow caution tape – if you see a mound, whether or not it has been roped off, leave it alone. Stretches of beach-side roads in areas with a lot of sea turtle activity may have reduced street lighting, and will be posted as such, because baby turtles follow the moon to find the water, and street lights may confuse them. Please make sure to clean up all litter and remove anything brought to the beach. Plastic trash that ends up in the water is dangerous to sea turtles of every age.
Rip currents are responsible for most of the rescues performed by lifeguards. Beach-goers should be aware of how dangerous rip currents are, and swim only at beaches with lifeguards in the designated swimming area. Rip currents can form in any large open water area, such as low spots and breaks in sandbars, or near structures such as jetties and piers.
The National Weather Service has tips for how to spot rip currents in the ocean. Look for any of these clues:
- a channel of churning, choppy water
- an area having a visible difference in water color
- a line of foam, seaweed or debris moving steadily seaward
- a break in the incoming wave pattern
Polarized sunglasses may make it easier to see the rip current clues provided above.
The American Red Cross has the following advice if caught in a rip current:
- If you are caught in a rip current, stay calm and don’t fight the current.
- Swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current. Once you are free, turn and swim toward shore.
- If you can’t swim to the shore, float or tread water until you are freeof the rip current and then head toward shore.
- If you feel you can’t make it to the shore, draw attention to yourself by waving and calling for help.
- Stay at least 100 feet away from piers and jetties. Permanent rip currents often exist near these structures.
- If someone is in trouble in the water, get help from a lifeguard. If a lifeguard is not available, have someone call 9-1-1.Throw the victim something that floats – a life jacket, cooler or inflatable ball – and yell instructions on how to escape the current.
- When at the beach, check conditions before entering the water. Check to see if any warning flags are up or ask a lifeguard about water conditions, beach conditions, or any potential hazards.