This is the safest spot on every beach + more tips on how to stay safe on SA beaches

Festive season is upon us and with South Africans heading for beach holidays across the country, it’s now particularly pertinent to discuss beach safety. 

From the remote to the super crowded, South Africans love beaching. Whether it’s the jam-packed slice of sand stretching along Clifton’s shores, to the more remote warmers waters of beaches like Uvongo Beach, safety should always be top of mind.  

ALSO SEE: From Bikini to uShaka: See SA's 45 Blue Flag beaches for the festive season

Beware of criminals

While ‘holiday-mode’ is a great space to be in, it’s advisable to remain cognisant of the potential dangers that lurk, even while you are on holiday. Many people often have a distorted perception of their safety while on holiday. Because they’re escaping the metropolitan madness where they’re constantly on guard, they think they are safer. With this distorted perception, they are less vigilant about personal safety while away. But, the fact of the matter remains, that in a country with one of the highest crime rates in the world, the risk of becoming a victim of a crime is not lower simply because you’ve made your way out of the city. The unfortunate state of affairs is that you have to be alert and adhere to basic safety principles regardless of where in South Africa, and even the world, you might find yourself these holidays.

READ: 10 SA beaches that will make you feel like you're living on an island  

“We tend to forget that criminals don’t take holidays. In fact, it’s your holiday they’ll be taking advantage of. While it would be wonderful to leave all those ‘big city’ concerns behind, crime in South Africa is a reality, wherever you are, and constant vigilance is required,” says Maanda Tshifularo, Head of Dialdirect Insurance.• Keep your kids close – with the increased awareness around kidnapping and human trafficking, vigilance is more important than ever. 

• Know your waze – before you venture out, plan your route and avoid getting lost in potentially dangerous areas. 

• Car jamming is a reality – you see this on signs at many shopping centres in big cities but it can happen anywhere so always double check that your car is actually locked before walking away. 

• Clear your car – don’t leave beach bags, sunglasses or any other valuables in plain sight. 

• Shop and explore with caution – while discovering new and interesting places can be fun, avoid using ATMs in secluded and quiet areas and steer clear of shops, passageways and other places in remote, dark or deserted locations. 

• Save important contacts – for example, the number of the local security provider or nearest police station. 

• Chat to the locals – just like you know which areas to stay away from in your hometown, so they know the places to avoid in theirs and who knows, you may learn about some great places to visit in the process. 

• Back to basics - when going to the beach, only take what you need. Don’t take a wallet with credit cards and large sums of cash, or your whole handbag with other valuable possessions and documents, if only the odd R200 and beach essentials will do.

• Location, location, location - at the beach, pick a spot close to the lifeguards, as this is a deterrent for would-be criminals. If you drive to the beach, park your car in a well-guarded area.

• Swim in shifts - take turns going to the water, so that someone is always there to keep an eye on valuables.

READ: Coastal SA dorpies you might have never heard of 

Lifeguards

Do your research before heading to the beach. Enquire whether there will be a lifeguard on duty that day or during the times you and you family decide to go to the beach. It’s important to ensure you also stay in between the lifeguard flags, as this is the cordoned off area reserved for swimming.

If a lifeguard is not on duty at a beach known for its tides and strong currents, do not swim there. 

TIP: Know your Sea Rescue bases. The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) is manned by over 1 000 volunteers at rescue bases around the coast and on inland dams. If you have an emergency, call them instead of trying to do the rescue yourself if untrained. If you try to be a hero, you’d only be jeopardising your own safety as well as the person that’s in distress. So be sure to have the contact numbers of emergency services at hand. A second could change everything!

ISIMANGALISO WETLAND PARK, ST LUCIA, KWAZULU NATAL

(A stretch of beach in iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Leisa Tyler. Getty Images) 

Rip currents

Rip currents are super dangerous, especially as they move slowly enough to barely be detected. Much quicker than a tide, they move faster than any of us can swim. But if anything, don't panic if you find yourself caught in one. And try to keep your head above water at all costs. 

How to spot them? 

The water will be a different colour than the surrounding water. It’s darker, and can also be identified by a change in the incoming pattern as the water will present  with choppy waves.  It also always flows in a channel or river type shape, away from the beach. 

Familiarise yourself with the colour-coded flag system:

A red flag - The most serious of all beach warning flags, red flags warn swimmers of serious hazards in the water. One red flag means that the surf is high or there are dangerous currents, or both. Though you can still swim if there is a red flag, you should use extreme caution and go in the water only if you're a strong swimmer.

A green flag means that the spotting conditions are good and no sharks have been seen. 

A black flag means that the spotting conditions are poor, but no sharks have been seen. 

A white flag with a black shark diagram means that a shark is currently near the beach, and beach users must get out of the water. A siren is sounded and the white flag is raised. 

ALSO SEE: Safe surfing with this Shark Spotters app!

To make summer shark safety even easier, Shark Spotters has also released and app that provides current and accurate shark safety information on smartphones.  

Drinking

It’s illegal to drink in public on SA beaches. Of course, during festive season many turn a blind eye to this and take drinks to the beach – particularly during New Years and other celebratory dates like Boxing Day (26 December). 

READ: Quick Guide to St Lucia: Where hippos roam the streets

Keep in mind:

• Be aware of stepping on broken glass

• Swimming after consuming alcohol – even if consumed at home before reaching the beach – is a big no-no as this could greatly increase your risk of drowning. And even if you're not swimming, but  you’re in charge of watching others swim, like children, being intoxicated could hamper your ability to focus.

• Drinking gives you a false sense of security, which means you could be flippant with your valuables, etc. 

Sunscreen  

No one is immune from the harmful effects of the sun. But a lot of people choose sunscreen with lower SPF counts because they want to ‘still tan’.

However, the SPF number is not the strength, the number simply tells you how long the sun's UV radiation would take to redden your skin. An SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays and SPF 50 blocks 98% - the real difference between the two is in fact just about 1%. 

So, apply that 50 all over!

Get a beach buddy

Depends on the time of day and the remoteness of the beach, but safety is a concern - especially for those solo beachgoers. Take a friend or go as a group as this will not only increase your safety on the beach itself, but having a friend with you in the ocean or watching you swim is a much safer way to beach. 

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