Alert Today, alive tomorrow
Just like being able to participate safely in traffic, you also need to know the rules of the ocean before you enter the water. After all, in traffic you are expected to learn first to ride a bicycle, or to be able to drive a car, to see the dangers before they see you, or to recognize in time what is happening around you. It is no different in the ocean.
Besides that, the number of drowning deaths in Africa is statistically very high compared to other continents. Next to fishermen, emigrants and recreational swimmers, it is often young children who don’t know how treacherous the ocean can be. Knowledge and information are powerful keys.
It seems so logical: You don’t drive a car if you don’t know how to do it, so why go into the ocean without knowing the rules or how to swim. But since swimming lessons are rare or practically impossible in The Gambia, it is one of the main reasons why TXP wants to introduce swim training on a large scale and provide fishermen with life jackets.
It should also be mentioned that, even if you can swim well, it is always wise not to do this alone. And, if possible, choose a beach where life guards or safety flags are present. A red flag is a no-go, a yellow flag means you have to be extra careful, and a green flag indicates safe swimming water.
Last but not least, use always you eyes. If you notice an area where waves aren’t breaking, a channel of churning, choppy water, a noticeably different water color, or a line of foam, seaweed or debris moving steadily seaward, don’t go in the water. Remember always: In doubt, stay out !
Unable to recognize ocean currents takes the most victims. It is very important to know that there are two different types, often unexpected, that can be deadly. And it is precisely their unpredictability, that makes them so treacherous.
Every day, some 6,000 waves break on a given beach. First danger they can create is an “Undertow”. The direction of an undertow is typically opposite of surface currents which you see coming to the shore, and the strength of this undercurrent varies, depending on the situation and the circumstances, like the wind
When big waves – no matter how fascinating and inviting they may look – break on the beach, a large uprush and backwash of water and sand is generated; this seaward-flowing water/sand mixture is pulled strongly into the next breaking wave. Swimmers feel like they are being sucked underwater when the wave breaks over their head – this is an undertow. They will be tumbled around roughly, but this return flow only goes a short distance to the next breaking wave.
Undertow is typically dangerous for small children who can’t walk back to the beach against the backwash flow or get unconscious because of the tumbling or of hitting their heads against the ocean bottom.
Remember that only experienced swimmers and surfers should enter the water on big wave days.
In contrast to undertow, rip currents are responsible for the great majority of drownings close to beaches. When a swimmer enters a rip current, it starts to carry them offshore. The swimmer can exit the rip current by swimming at right angles to the flow, parallel to the shore, or by simply treading water or floating. However, drowning may occur when swimmers exhaust themselves by trying unsuccessfully to swim directly against the flow back to the beach.
A rip current is a horizontal current. Rip currents do not pull people under the water like undertows; They pull people away from shore. Drowning deaths occur when people pulled offshore are unable to keep themselves afloat and swim to shore. This may be due to any combination of fear, panic, exhaustion, or lack of swimming skills.
Rip currents can be early detected in about knee-to-waist high water. But difficult to escape once you pass chest-deep water. They often occur when breaking waves push water up the beach face. This piled-up water must escape back out to the sea as water seeks its own level. Typically the return flow (backwash) is relatively uniform along the beach, so rip currents aren’t present.
But if there is an area where the water can flow back out the ocean more easily, such as a break in the sand bar, then a rip current can form. Rip currents are generally only tens of feet in width, but there may be several at a given time spaced widely along the shore.
Most obvious weather danger on the beach are thunderstorms. Lightning strikes are common beach hazards that can be very dangerous for swimmers and sunbathers alike. Lightning is known to strike over 12 miles away from a storm. If you’re on the beach and you hear thunder, you are already in danger of lightning striking you. A lot of times, storms coming from the mainland will catch sunbathers by surprise. The water and the open beach are two places you do not want to be during a thunderstorm.
A less obvious beach hazard is the sun. The sun’s strong UV Rays can cause sunburn, eye problems, and even skin cancer. Protect yourself by using sunscreen. In addition, you can also sit under an umbrella, wear tightly woven clothing, and wear sunglasses to protect yourself.
Another direct dangerous result of the sun heat is dehydration. Picture this: You’re out on the beach all day, soaking up the sun, sweating from the heat, playing football, and laughing with friends and family. Then you go for a quick swim and suddenly you get muscle cramps or feel lightheaded. You notice you aren’t swimming anymore and you feel weak. You could be suffering from heat exhaustion, brought on by dehydration.
Hydrating is extremely important every day, but even more when you are busy exerting yourself in the hot sun. A day at the beach can be very distracting and a lot of the time people don’t even notice they are getting dehydrated there. Make sure you pack plenty of water and refuel throughout the day. A good self-test is to check the color of your urine when you go to the bathroom. The more darker instead of the normal color – light yellow – the more dehydrated you are.
The last hazard on our list is the wind. While you might think this is a weird entry on our list, it actually makes a lot of sense. Waves are most created by energy passing through water. The higher the energy, the larger the waves of water are going to be. If it’s a particularly windy day, keep an eye on the surf and know what size waves your swimming ability can handle.
Hazards from sea creatures are not common, in fact very rare. For the river it is needless to say that it is better to stay away from crocodiles and hippos.
For the ocean however, the danger mainly consists of jellyfish which can produce a painful sting. This species is easy to spot and to recognize in the water.
Stingrays, though not common, sometimes make a presence. Think also about wearing water-proof shoes or slippers to avoid a sting from a sea urchin.
Shoes are also advisable instead of walking barefoot in the sand to avoid the risk of a worm crawling under your toenail from cattle faecies.