Can We Safely Night Swim at the Beach?

Night swim at the beach

Many days, the beach is so screaming hot that all you can do is take cover and wait for the sun to set and cool things off a bit.  The surf at night is so much nicer without the sun reflecting off of the water.  It would sure be nice to take a dip in the surf and relax once it gets dark.

Can we safely night swim at the beach?  Watch for rip currents. Wear swim shoes. Don’t carry lights or shiny objects. Don’t swim alone. Keep track of the shoreline and swim during low tide.

Getting away to the beach can be harder for some years.  Work and family events keep you and your family busy, so you really need to take advantage of the time you make it to the outdoors.  What’s the fun of going to your favorite beach if you can’t enjoy night activities as well?

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What are Possible Dangers for Swimmers in the Water at Night?

We want to all have a good time when in the water.  Nobody wants to have an accident or get hurt.

Sharp Rocks and Shells

Many beaches have rock deposits and shells that move across the seafloor with the tides.  A lot of people go into the water barefoot without protection.

A simple solution is to wear water shoes or sandals when in the water.  Tennis shoes are not made for saltwater exposure and minimalist shoes have too thin a bottom for adequate protection.  Make sure the sole of the shoes is thick enough to prevent foreign objects from penetrating it.

Stingray on bottom

Stingrays

There are several types of sea life that live along the ocean floor.  Over 220 species of stingrays live in subtropic and tropical waters along the bottom.  They are nonaggressive and try to avoid people in general.

Accidental stepping on one can cause a reactionary puncture through skin and bone from a barb that can get up to 14 inches long in extreme cases.  The barb can inject toxins that cause pain, swelling and muscle cramps.

Rip Currents

Rip currents are specific water currents that carry objects, including people, out beyond the area of the breaking waves along the beach.  They are unpredictable and too strong to overcome if a person is caught in one.

These currents do not force and hold anyone under the water.  They are dangerous because they can temporarily trap a swimmer and carry them away from the shore, where oftentimes, the swimmer can tire or be carried out beyond the waves panic and drown.

Sharks

Sharks are known to stay in deep water and drop-offs, between sandbars in particular.  Avoid murky water where it is less visible.   Watch the wave breaks.  Shark silhouettes can be seen at times swimming along the waves and are a warning sign.

Shiny jewelry and splashing water are known to attract sharks.  So does bright clothing, so these are to be avoided.

Don’t enter the water if there are posted warning signs or sharks are known to be present in that area.

Jellyfish group

Jellyfish

Jellyfish have tentacles that have millions of small, coiled threads armed with barbs or venom that can shoot out or brush against swimmers.   They often float in groups and navigate at different levels of the water.

Keeping an eye out is important since they can drift close to shore.  One moment the water is clear and 10 minutes later, there could be dozens floating around.  The biggest risk is simply not seeing them in the dark waters.

Sea Urchins

They are between 1-4 inches in size with rigid yet fragile spines.  Most species are found in temperate and tropical coasts, between the surface and some tens of feet deep.

Injuries for ocean swimmers who step on one along surfaces where coral and fixed sea urchins exist. The stings can be severe depending on the species.  The toxins can cause breathing problems and discoloration around the wound from dyes in the toxins.

What Are Sensible Guidelines to Use When Night Swimming?

#1 – Swim with Moonlight

Avoiding water hazards require plenty of natural light.   The full moon is the best lunar cycle to swim.  Watch for large fish in wave breakers and jellyfish.

Swimming shoes

#2 – Wear Water Shoes

Foot protection is one of the most important ways to prevent injury.  Hard soles will ward off everything from sharp shells to pesky sea crabs.

#3 – Shuffle Your Feet As You Walk in the Water

Sliding your feet along the bottom will allow you to locate sea life such as stingrays and crabs without stepping on them.  Kicking up sand will alert fish and possibly sharks that swimmers are in the area.

#4Swim During Low Tide

Avoid high tide.  This tide will bring in more sea life to the shoreline along with larger fish.  It will also bring in more debris and jellyfish towards the shore.

#5 – Avoid Fishing Piers and Coral Reefs

Bright pier lights and bait in the water are a big draw for smaller prey.  Because of this, fishing piers naturally attract large fish and especially sharks which make this one of the most dangerous areas to swim, especially at night.

Coral reefs are a habitat for the aquatic food chain.  Additionally, this is a breeding ground for sea urchins and a most likely place to step on one.

#6 – Always Swim With a Buddy

Most importantly, never night swim alone. Keep in tight groups and communicate regularly.  Decide on the area to swim and how to signal if one of you is experiencing trouble.  Always keep visual eye contact with each other.  Never swim unless there is proper moonlight to see each other and what is in the water.

Do not take children night swimming as your buddy.  Period.  They do not have the experience or strength to handle an emergency situation.

#7– Prepare For Handling a Rip Current

A rip current is dangerous and will be unexpectedly strong.  At night, it can be even more alarming.  Preparing for how each swimmer will handle such an event can be a matter of life and death.

Firstly, a rip current will occur more frequently in an inlet from one body of water to another.  But, this is not always the case.  These currents can trap a swimmer and carry them out offshore and is not really possible to break free until it loses its power past the waves.

Rip Currents

A rip current will not pull you underwater.  Most swimmers who drown in such a current, panic and tire trying to break free.  Stay calm, keep regular breathing and go with the current until it releases you.  Then calmly swim towards shore.

What Type of Safety Devices Can Help Lower Your Risks?

You can use a long rope to keep in close proximity with your swimming buddies.  A strong nylon rope can be used.

Wearing a wet suit is recommended when possible.  It can help prevent skin irritations, jellyfish stings, and can keep you warm in all seasons.  A swimsuit and t-shirt would be another good choice.

A Swim mask can help with visibility underwater.  Goggles can also be used.

Do not use a flashlight.  This may attract sharks to your area.

Things to Keep in Mind When Swimming at Night

Swimming with water shoes are highly recommended and requires practice.  They will saturate and become heavier.  You should know how to quickly remove shoes in the case of an emergency situation.

Watch out for rip currents and be aware not to wander too far from shore.  A good rule of thumb is to stay inside the first sandbar.  It is remarkably deep between the first and second sandbar, which makes the swim riskier.

Be careful not to lose track of the shoreline.  Find lights on the beach to focus on and don’t wander too far down the beach or you may lose your bearings.  Build a beach fire or post lanterns by your camp or vehicles when possible.

Sharks can be more active at night and you should always be on the lookout.  If you see one, do anything you can to get away — punch, kick, and poke, then get out of the water as fast as you can. Attacks are still very rare, some sources say as little as 1 in 11.5 million.  Leave the water when you see something you are not sure about or looks particularly large, for obvious reasons.

Leave the water when you are tired.  Don’t overstay your swim.

Related Questions:

How do you dive under tall waves?  Some waves are too big to swim through.  Start early, before the wave breaks and dive headfirst under the break of the wave.  The power of the wave will pass over your head.

What do you do if you slide your foot onto a stingray?  Stay calm and immediately jump and pick your feet up and swim towards shore.  This should avoid contact.

Tracy Villarreal

I'm the owner of Active At The Beach. I grew up in a beach town in which I was fortunate enough to spend tons of time around the sea and the beach.

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