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The South West has some fantastic beaches and some of the cleanest swimming spots in Europe. There’s nothing better than spending a day at the seaside, enjoying the sunshine and a refreshing dip in sparkling blue water.

Here are 20 top tips to have a safe, fun, healthy and relaxing day by the sea.

  • Slop on SPF 30+ 4-star + rated waterproof sunscreen every two hours. Waterproof sunscreen is not suitable for children under three
  • Slap on a hat to shade your face, neck and ears
  • Wear sunglasses with UV protection to shield your eyes
  • Keep your shoulders covered – slip on a T-shirt or UV protective suit for children
  • Seek shade between 11am and 3pm
See the MET Office's UV forecast

Make sure you have plenty of water to drink. Even on a cool day, the sun and wind can dehydrate you.

Avoid drinking alcohol at the beach. It contributes to dehydration, affects judgement and leads to greater risk-taking. Never enter the water when you’ve been drinking alcohol.

Especially during and following heavy rain, streams and rivers can contain some bacteria and viruses which may cause illness.

  • Do not drink from rivers or streams that flow onto the beach even if they look clean
  • Avoid splashing stream water into your mouth
  • Wash hands carefully in clean water or wipe with antiseptic wipes/fluid before eating

During and after periods of heavy rainfall, runoff from agricultural land is greatly increased and bathing water quality can be reduced. This is particularly so in areas of intensive dairy farming like the South West. The Environment Agency is working with Natural England and farmers to encourage better farming practices and improve water quality.

On beaches patrolled by lifeguards, different flags tell you where it’s safest to swim and which areas are set aside for watersports.

The area between the red-and-yellow flags is patrolled by lifeguards. This is the safest place to swim, bodyboard and use inflatables

The red flag indicates that it is dangerous to swim or get in the water. Never go in the water when the red flag is flying.

The area between black-and-white chequered flags is a designated area for watersports such as surfing and kayaking. Never swim or bodyboard here.

Keep Britain Tidy’s Seaside Award guarantees visitors a clean, safe, attractive and well-managed coastal stretch.

The Blue Flag Award is the international quality mark for beaches. They are only awarded to coastal destinations with the highest quality of water, facilities, safety, environmental education and management.

Read the safety signs at the beach entrance to help you identify hazards and find the safest areas to swim. They have information you can give emergency services to help them find you quickly. Information about water quality and potential sources of pollution is also displayed at designated bathing waters.

Online water quality information

These services allow beach-goers to make informed decisions about whether to bathe.

BeachLive, South West Water’s voluntary bathing water information service, provides free alerts for beaches in Devon and Cornwall when stormwater overflows may temporarily affect bathing water quality, whilst protecting people and property from internal sewer flooding.

The Environment Agency (EA) has created an online profile for each of the UK’s designated bathing waters. For certain beaches, the EA also issues warnings when rainfall may affect bathing water quality.

The Marine Conservation Society’s Good Beach Guide also has lots of useful information including water quality, weather, tide forecasts, local beach cleans and wildlife.

Buoyancy aids, such as life rings, are available at most beaches. If the equipment is missing or vandalised, please report it to your local council, the beach manager or the lifeguards.

Watch out for sharp objects/litter hidden in the sand and always take your litter home.

This is especially true of dog poo. Not only is it unpleasant, but the bacteria affect seawater quality.

Please don’t leave leftover food for the birds either. Wild birds, such as seagulls and pigeons, can also affect water quality.

If you care about your local beach, why not get involved with Keep Britain Tidy’s BeachCare programme? Or help monitor levels of litter with the Marine Conservation Society's Beachwatch beach clean survey.

Not all beaches have lifeguards. To find beaches where there are lifeguards on duty during the summer, check the RNLI website.

Why not get involved with Surf Life Saving Great Britain? Find your local club here.

Exploring rock pools is fun, but please remember to follow the Marine Conservation Society Seashore Code: Take photos and memories away with you, not living animals.

  • Make sure you wear shoes with a good grip to protect your feet and avoid slipping.
  • Discover the wonderful sea creatures that inhabit the UK seas and shores with this guide and check out the rock pool spotter in the Cool Seas classroom.
  • Rocks can be sharp and cause nasty injuries if you fall, so children should be supervised at all times.

Building sandcastles, playing in the sand and digging holes on the beach are all great fun.

Sand can seem pretty harmless, but games such as partially burying people in the sand or sitting in a large dug out hole, can be dangerous. However well dug a hole may seem, sand can be unstable and can slip and fall down, trapping or even suffocating a child.

The South West Coast Path offers stunning views and great walks. But remember that cliffs are not a playground, so please stick to the waymarked Coast Path and stay away from cliff edges and the base of cliffs, as rock falls can happen at any time.

The tide can come in surprisingly quickly. Many lifeboat and lifeguard rescues involve people being stranded by the tide. Find out about the tides from the local tourist information office or from BBC Weather's tide tables.

When you’re on the beach, keep a lookout for the tide’s direction and be aware of how fast the water’s coming in, especially if you’re playing in rock pools.

  • Never swim alone
  • If you get into trouble in the sea, stick your hand in the air and shout for help
  • If you see someone else in trouble, tell a lifeguard
  • If you can’t see a lifeguard, call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard.
  • DO
    • Follow the advice of the lifeguards
    • Wear your leash so you don’t lose your board
    • Check your equipment for damage before use
    • Bodyboard between the red and yellow flags
    • Surf between the black and white flags
    • Consider other water users – learn surf etiquette and rights of way.
  • DON'T
    • Ditch your board – it will keep you afloat in an emergency and make you easier to find
    • Go alone
    • Get on the water in conditions above your capability.
  • Ensure children are closely supervised
  • Keep nearby
  • Only use between the red and yellow flags
  • Follow the lifeguard’s advice
  • Do not take out in big waves
  • Do not use when orange windsock is flying, as this indicates offshore winds.
Rips are strong currents that can quickly take swimmers from shallow water to water beyond their depth.
If you’re caught in a rip:
  • Stay calm

  • If you can stand, wade. Don’t swim

  • Never try to swim directly against the rip or you’ll get exhausted

  • Keep hold of your board or inflatable to help you float

  • Raise your hand and shout for help

  • Swim parallel to the beach until free of the rip, then make for shore.

Our seas are home to amazing wildlife like turtles and basking sharks. Report your sightings to the Marine Conservation Society and check out the Jellyfish Identification Guide.

  • weever fish

    The weever fish is a small fish with venomous spines on its back. If you step on one, the sting can be very painful. Place the affected area in water as hot as is comfortable, making sure you test the water first so you don't scald the person who has been stung.
  • Jellyfish

    If someone has been stung by a jellyfish, do not rub the affected area, as this will make the pain worse. Lightly spray the area with seawater and apply a cold compress if it's available.