Stay Well in the Water

Public Health and Safety are Priority One

Swimming in the ocean is an excellent outdoor activity for the whole family. However, any outdoor activity has its own set of safety issues that we should all plan for and recognize. When coming to the beach you will want to bring sunscreen, a beach towel, beach shoes, and perhaps an umbrella.

Before going in the water you will want to know the weather, who you can call for help if needed. If there are any water quality advisories, and the tidal cycles. Listed here are some known concerns for South Carolina waters and the precautions to consider before entering the surf.

Potential Health Risks

Gastroenteritis is the most common illness associated with swimming in contaminated water. It occurs in a variety of forms that can have one or more of the following symptoms: nausea, vomiting, stomachache, diarrhea, headache and fever. Other minor illnesses that can result from swimming in contaminated water include ear, eye, skin, nose, and throat infections. Small children and individuals with weakened immune systems are most at risk of illness.

To stay safe and healthy at the beach:

  • Be aware of advisories and avoid swimming in those areas. Wading, fishing and shell collecting do not present a risk since most exposures to pathogens occur by swallowing water. However, do not enter the water with open sores or lesions, high levels of bacteria may cause infection.
  • Do not swim or allow children to play in swashes or near stormwater pipes. Although the shallow pools of water on the beach caused by swashes and stormwater seem like good places for children to play, they are NOT. These shallow pools are caused by runoff from paved surfaces and often contain much higher levels of bacteria than the ocean.
  • Do not swim in the ocean during or immediately following rainfall. To further reduce risk of illness, wait at least 12 hours after a heavy rain to resume swimming. It is safe to wade in at any time (except during a thunderstorm!). Heavy rain can wash bacteria and possibly harmful pathogens into the surf. High bacteria densities persist in the surf for hours after these rains and may increase swimmer's risk of illness.

For current surf and storm information, please visit:

Rip Currents

A rip current can occur on any beach or body of water that has breaking waves. It is a strong channel of water flowing away from the coast, generally through the surf line,. Rip currents can move to different locations along the coast and can be deadly both to swimmers and those in waist deep water where the rip current occurs. The poster below from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration describes the escape route and actions you should take if you are caught in a rip current. Please visit NOAA's Web site to learn more.

Jellyfish Stings

Most jellyfish in South Carolina's coastal waters are harmless. You may see some washed up on the beach or you may encounter one in the shallow water they prefer. South Carolina's Department of Natural Resources has created a fact sheet on jellyfish that discusses prevention and what to do if you are stung.

Related Web Links

Here are some other sites that might be of interest: