How to keep your family safe at the beach this summer

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What's more fun than a picturesque day at the beach, full of splashing, sand, sun and fun? Not much, but to get there you may need to prepare so that the day ends up as happy as you imagine it to be. The beach can present real dangers for families, so here are some easy ways to make sure you and your loved ones stay safe.

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Pack a first aid kit

Accidents happen, so be prepared for them with a well-stocked first aid kit. Some things to consider for the beach include: latex gloves, gauze, antibiotic towelettes, pain reliever, antacid, aloe gel, zip-top bags, tweezers, an antihistamine and towelettes or baby wipes.

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Protect against ultraviolet rays

Ultraviolet (UV) rays that come from the sun can pose a risk of cancer if the skin is not protected.  According to the American Cancer Society, UV rays are strongest at midday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., but really the kids should be protected any time they're outdoors. Hats, cover-ups and sunglasses are crucial to help protect skin from UV rays. Some children's beachwear will even provide SPF protection.

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Screen your sunscreen

You should lather the kids up with SPF 15 or greater to protect against UVA and UVB rays, according to the CDC - just make sure it doesn't contain harmful ingredients. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before going outside, then reapplied every two hours. Just because you or the little ones don't "look pink" doesn't mean you have avoided a burn. Unprotected skin can be burned in as little as 15 minutes, but it could take up to 12 hours for damage to appear.

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Remember that clouds won't save you

You may think you've outsmarted the sun by choosing a beach day that's a little overcast, but not so fast. An overcast or cloudy day doesn't mean that you can skip the sunscreen. Clouds do not block UV rays, they only filter them.

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Keep drinking water

Do not wait until you or the other people in your group are thirsty to drink water. You need to be aware of signs of dehydration, and stay hydrated to avoid heat-related illnesses such as dehydration or heat stroke. 

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Know the signs of heat-related illness

There are many signs that the heat is causing bigger problems than just some sweating. A person who feels nauseous, dizzy, confused or tired and weak may be experiencing a heat-related illness and needs to be removed from the sun, according to the CDC. Muscle cramping may also be a sign of too much sun exposure. More extreme symptoms are fainting, high body temperature or vomiting.

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Check what's in the water

That water may look pristine, but there could be some seriously gross things lurking beneath the surface. The EPA monitors bacteria levels in coastal water and other marine bodies. You can check to see if there are any bacterial concerns for swimmers at the beach before even heading out.

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Beware of RWIs

Recreational water illnesses (RWIs) are very real, and parents should be able to recognize the signs of a sickness brought on by a day at the water. Infections, including gastrointestinal, ear, wound, eye and respiratory, can be passed by swallowing or just coming in contact with bacteria in the water. On second thought, maybe everyone should just hang out on the boardwalk.

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Avoid the alcohol

If you're at a beach that allows drinking, it may seem like a great idea to kick back with a cold one while the kids make sand castles, but it comes with a number of issues. Parents need to be of sound mind to make safe decisions when the kids are by open water, and to recognize their need for help. Drinking in the sun is a seriously bad idea; alcohol can also exacerbate dehydration and may put you at an increased risk of heatstroke.

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Use the buddy system

No one should be swimming alone in open water. Send even the most accomplished swimmers out with a friend in case of an emergency.

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Put on the floaties

If your children will be swimming in the ocean, make sure they have arm or vest floatation devices to help secure them in the water.

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Stick near the pros

If you are with kids or new swimmers, or just want a little extra backup, choose a spot near a lifeguard stand so that you are closer to help in case of a water emergency.

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Instruct on rip currents

It is important for parents to teach children about rip currents, a feisty feature of some shorelines that can pull swimmers away from the shore. The best thing to tell new swimmers is that if they get caught, they should swim parallel to the shore until they escape the current - then they can make their way to the beach, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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Storm watch

If the clouds look like they are about to chase away your sunny beach day, it's best to just choose an indoor activity. You may take the gamble and head out anyway, but it could prove dangerous, especially when lightning gets involved. While you're at it, just avoid these places altogether in the summer.

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