The sun is at its fiercest between 10h00 and 15h00; either avoid the beach ten or take a hat, sunglasses and light, long-sleeved shirt. Use suntan lotion, and remember that the higher the protection factor number, the stronger it is (e.g., a factor five lotion means it will take five hours to burn to the extent you would in one hour without protection). Renew your lotion regularly because sweating and swimming wash it off. Remember that slat water intensifies sunburn, and that you also burn on overcast days and when a cool wind is blowing.
Before taking a gentle seaside stroll or a major coastal hike, check local conditions and tides. For rambles, always allow enough time to get back before the tide turns, while on long hikes, remember that high tide occurs about half an hour later each day, with the water level fluctuating by up to 2,5 m between high and low tide. It is easier to walk along firm, damp sand at low tide than soft, thick sand at high tide. It you do get stranded, but are sufficiently high above the high-water mark and the weather is not too cols, it may be best to wait until the tide turns. Be wary of swimming or paddling between rocks as currents may overwhelm you; if you do decide to swim to safety, keep your shoes on for protection. Take particular care when crossing river mouths, and never cross a river in flood, or when the tide is flowing out to sea.
On a long hike take sensible clothing, suntan lotion, a basic first aid kit and sufficient water. Always inform someone of your trip. Make sure the coastline you intend to cross is open to the public, and familiarise yourself with local regulations concerning camping, making fires and gathering seafood.
The rocky areas of the southern African coastline are particularly treacherous, making it vital never to turn your back on the sea. When rock angling, check tide tables and at the site itself spend some time watching your chosen rock for flooding. (You should be wearing nonslip shoes.) Note wave patterns and currents and work out an escape route to shore should you fall in.
When casting, always check that no one behind you will be hit. Never put your hand into a fish's mouth to remove the hook; rather use a pair of pliers. Use a barbless hook when fishing for snoek and red steenbras: their teeth have an anti-coagulant that causes profuse bleeding. Avoid poisonous fish such as puffers (blaasops), which have a sixty per cent fatality rate. The livers of some fish (red steenbras, kabeljou, etc.) contain high concentrations of vitamin A, which can cause hair or skin loss.
Swimming in the sea is very different from swimming in a pool, affected by factors such as waves, currents and the water temperature. Always obey warning signs or flags on a beach, and the instructions of lifesavers: they are there to protect you. Never swim alone or in very cold water: below 10°C, your swimming ability will fail in less than 15 minutes. Never dive headfirst into a rock pool or the waves; if you must enter in a hurry, jump. Stay within your depth, swimming parallel to the beach and keeping a landmark in sight.
To avoid cramp, never swim on an empty stomach or after a meal. (If you so, float on your back, stretching the cramped muscle, then swim ashore using a different stroke.) Study the waves patterns. 'Dumpers' (steep-faced waves that collapse from their crest) can fling you into the sea bed, winding you. Smooth water in the midst of choppy water or surf indicates strong currents below the surface, and a fast-moving channel sweeping out to sea a rip current. (Never swim against a rip, but diagonally across it or parallel to the shore until clear of it – a rip current usually weakens considerably after a few hundred metres.)
Be particularly careful when swimming in river mouths, avoiding them altogether when the ride is running out. Should you get into trouble, above all keep calm. Raise one arm above your head and wait for help. Conserve energy by floating on your back rather than treading water, and do not shout for help unless someone is nearby. Swimming in the sea could mean contact with any of a number of dangerous marine creatures (such as sharks, bluebottles and stonefish). Check with local sources as to the particular dangers of an area, and take precautions. You should also be aware of basic emergency treatment.
For surfing you need a board with an ankle strap, to make sure you and it are not parted, and a wetsuit for protection in cold water. Before surfing in a new area, make sure there are no submerged rocks or obstacles, and find out about local currents and rips. (should you be caught in a rip, paddle across the current until you are free.) Obey the 'rule of the wave': the surfer closest to the break has the right of way. When paddling out, avoid the surfing area and incoming surfers, and in crowded conditions beware of loose boards. Always keep within restricted surfing area where these apply. Leave the water before you are tired and cols.
Always check tides and the weather forecast, and do not sail in an offshore wind unless you are very experienced. Wear a wetsuit and a light buoyancy aid (which, unlike a lifejacket, does not restrict movement and it suitable for competent swimmers taking part in active watersports). Keep well clear of swimmers, surfers, anglers and busy harbours, and also keep a sharp lookout for other boardsailors. It is wise to carry a flare and a spare length of line. If you should get carried out to sea, undo the sail from the boom, roll and tie it to the mast, collapse the rig onto the sailboard, and paddle ashore. If you need help, raise one arm.
Canoeing and paddleskiing
In the sea these sports require strength and skill. You should be familiar with local conditions and at all times should wear your craft in an area where there are rip currents, rocks or swimmers. If caught in surf, meet the waves head on, padding to the waves, or you could capsize. When heading for shore, if you have no experience of riding waves, face into them turning around if necessary.
Never take to the sea before you can handle your craft well, and know local conditions, including the tides and weather. Always tell someone where you are going and when you will be back, and inform them of your safe return. Keep lifesaving gear for everyone with easy reach, and carry distress flares and plenty of water. Poor swimmers and children should wear their lifejackets all the time, and everyone should wear them in rough water or while crossing surf. Remember the basic rules of navigation: a powerboat gives way to a rowing boat and both give way to a sailing boat. When passing or in a restricted area, keep to the right.
Should you capsize and be unable to right your craft, stay with it: the shore is invariably further away than it looks and it is also easier for rescuers to spot a boat than a head bobbing in the water. In the case of sailing boats, if you are launching from the beach or a slipway an offshore wind will speed you on your way, but may cause difficulty in turning back. If you are not experienced in sailing into the wind, launch in an onshore wind.
Powerboats should always carry a pair of oars, and the outboard engine should be matched to the boat and properly secured to the transom. Always ensure that you have enough fuel. Never play around in a powerboat: it is easy to fall overboard and propeller injuries can be very severe.
Always wear a lifejacket or buoyancy aid, even if you can swim well, and check that your skis are in good order. Looking out for submerged rocks, obstacles and swimmers, and never ski in water less than a metre deep or closer than 200m to the shore. Try not to fall forwards: either sit down or fall sideways. Let go the towline as you fall and retrieve your skis quickly to help you stay afloat. Signal that all is well by raising a ski or a hand. There should always be two people in boat, one to drive and one to watch the skier.
Illustrated Guide to the Southern African Coast.Pages 276-277. AA The Motorist Publications (Pty) Limited for The Automobile Association of South Africa. 1988. ISBN 0 947008 47 0
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