Beach Umbrella Safety, By Thomas O’Neill

Summer is all about family, friends, and outdoor activities.  And if you live near the coast or by a lake, there’s likely a lot of beach time.

After all, what’s more enjoyable than lounging around at the beach, right?

Not so fast.

While the beach has a reputation for being safe (It’s the ocean that gets the bad rap for being a danger zone.), there are inherent risks you may not be aware of beyond not the obvious one: not applying enough sunscreen.

Having been a lifeguard at Jacob Riis Park in Queens, New York, for 11 summers and spent much of my time as a child and teen at the very beach I now protect, I’ve certainly seen it all.  And one of the biggest hazards I’m alluding to, specifically, pertains to umbrellas.

Recently, there was a story about a woman in Maryland who was impaled in the chest by a flying umbrella.  A few weeks prior, part of an umbrella pierced a woman’s ankle at the Jersey shore.

I’m sure there are other umbrella stories resulting in trips to the ER that aren’t garnering as much media attention as they should be (Sharks are taking precedence–lots of sightings off Cape Cod), which is why I wanted to write this Guest NoPoST on umbrella safety.

Some suggestions:

Choose the right kind of umbrella  Inexpensive umbrellas made of flimsy material (like plastic) are potentially one gust away from an accident. And as an FYI, patio umbrellas – while adjustable – are not beach umbrellas! They’re like 9-feet wide, and catch wind very easily.  That makes them super-dangerous. Find a medium-weight beach umbrella with a canopy that has a bit of a curve when open. Some suggestions here.

Consider wind  Wind is the most important factor to consider when securing your umbrella. While wind is typically a non-factor during the morning and early afternoon hours, it typically poses a threat later in the day. When setting up your umbrella, consider which direction the wind is blowing. If you’re not sure of the wind direction or whether it has changed throughout the day (a shift can send your umbrella sailing!), ask a lifeguard. And remember: both onshore and offshore winds pose serious threats.

Dig deep hole You should dig a hole for the base of your umbrella deep enough so the base is sturdy. Once the base of the umbrella is secure (at least 16 inches into the sand), angle the umbrella so the top acts as a shield. This is really important because when the top of the umbrella is faced in the opposite direction, the wind catches the umbrella and causes it to uproot. When wind catches the umbrella, it acts as a missile-like projectile, and this can cause serious harm to beachgoers.

Take it down If winds exceed 15 mph, it would be wise to take the umbrella down. That’s just common sense.

And a final note: Please take into consideration where you sit relative to the lifeguard stand. If you decide to set up in front of our stands, you might be asked to lower your umbrella as it can impede our view of the water.

O’Neill on set w/Dr. Oz

Thomas O’Neill, a high school math and computer science teacher, has spent the last 11 summers lifeguarding at Jacob Riis Park where he has made countless rescues that would have otherwise resulted in death or serious injury. O’Neill also competes in surf lifesaving events, which display the lifesaving skills of lifeguards. He currently serves as team captain of the United States lifesaving team, comprised of six men and six women. Since 2012, O’Neill has earned six national titles at the United States Lifesaving championships.

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