Beach-goers: Worry less about sharks and more about surf and sand hazards

There’s a few weeks left to summer and August is a big beach month. One of the most highly touted scare stories each season are the shark attack reports. Here in New England, people may be more nervous than usual in the light of a pretty horrific recent white shark attack off Cape Cod. Thankfully, this encounter between man and beast was not fatal – you can hear the survivor talk about his experience.
It’s understandable why these events are riveting – it’s the stuff of our nightmares. But should it be? This was the first confirmed white shark attack in Massachusetts in 76 years. For all the media attention they get, shark attacks are pretty rare. Ocean observers tell us that you have more of a risk of dying from a sand hole collapse than a shark attack but you probably aren’t having nightmares about sand castles. But maybe you should be.

Another very common hazard at the ocean are rip currents. Beach-goers should be alert for these narrow, powerful channels of water that pull swimmers directly away from a beach. They can occur at any beach with breaking waves, sadly illustrated by the recent drownings in Lake Michigan and the Toronto area. According to the U.S. Lifesaving Association, more than 80 percent of water rescues on surf beaches are due to rip current and they account for about 100 drownings per year.

You can learn more about rip currents at the National Weather Service Rip Current Safety site. There’s a lot of information, current rip current weather alerts, and safety tips and resources to educate you and your kids.