Ocean Swimming Dangers

South American friends in water

As anyone who has ever seen or heard of "Jaws" knows, it can be dangerous to go swimming in the ocean. However, it's not nearly as threatening when you know in advance what natural events and living things to avoid. If you stick near beaches with lifeguards, you should always get some warnings about how safe it is to go in the water.

The Great White Shark Myth

Sharks are often what people fear when it comes to ocean safety, but they actually pose a small risk factor to swimmers. On average, there are 50 to 70 shark attacks a year around the world, and only five to 15 prove fatal. In the United States, the average number of shark attacks a year is 16, with only one fatality. When they do occur, it's usually between sandbars. To avoid a shark attack, stay close to the shore, swim with a buddy, avoid bright colored swimwear (sharks see contrast in colors easily), and don't swim if you're bleeding since sharks have a good sense of smell. It also helps to stay out of the water after dark, since that's when sharks are most active.

Jellyfish and other Stinging Creatures

They won't take a bite out of you, but jellyfish can sting and its poison will be painful. The key with jellyfish is to avoid them in or out of the water. Beaches with jellyfish issues will post warnings to help swimmers be aware of the threat. Some anemones also sting, as well as stingrays, sea slugs, and several species of fish. Some of these produce larvae and parasites that could leave a rash that could break out a full day after a swimmer leaves the water.

Rip Currents and Shore Breaks

A rip current is a powerful water flow that can pull swimmers away from shore. Their strength is usually indicated by the size of the waves. A shore break is a wave that breaks on the shore. They are powerful because the entire force of the wave comes down on the beach without the buffer of water. Both can cause serious injuries, and it takes some know-how to swim safely through them. Check wave conditions before going into the water, ask the lifeguard and listen to the wave report on the radio. Some beaches also have a flag system that shows the wave condition.

Heat and Sunburn

Because the sun radiates off the water, a swimmer gets an increased amount of sunlight. The swimmer isn't always aware of this effect because the ocean depth keeps the water cool. Heat stroke, exhaustion, cramps, and burns can occur from excessive time in the sun. It can take up to 24 hours to see or feel the results. Swimmers must wear sunscreen and replenish it throughout the day, drink lots of water, and take breaks to sit in the shade.

Watch Out for Other People

Ocean swimmers also share the water with divers and surfers. While divers won't pose much of a threat, a surfboard can. Running into a surfboard can lead to serious injury, and in rare cases, death. Each swimmer has to be responsible for knowing where the surfers are.