Few things shout “summer” more than soaking up some rays with the scent of saltwater in the air and sand between your toes. According to the EPA, Americans take over two billion trips to the beach every year.

The beach can be a fun and exciting getaway but it’s important to remain safe while you’re there.

Sorry, but it’s not all about fun in the sun. A relaxing beach weekend can turn bad with just one rogue wave or one angry sea creature. While many bad beach days end with little more than a sunburn in need of a good soak in some aloe vera gel, serious injuries are more common than you’d want to believe. Here are some tips to help you keep your beach trips as safe as possible.

Have an Action Plan

Before hitting the waves, there are some things to keep in mind. Even if you’re heading to the lake or a pool instead of the ocean, many of the tips below apply to hanging out near any body of water. Regardless of where you’re going, these tips will help you stay safe at the shore.

  • Watch for warning flags and learn what they mean
  • Different beaches and states have different colored flags and assigned meanings; be sure to ask the lifeguard if you’re unsure what the flags mean.
  • Generally, red flags suggest strong surf and currents (i.e., “Be Cautious”). At some beaches, red means the beach is closed. Therefore, be sure to check before going into the water. Yellow flags signify moderate surf and currents. The water might be rough but not dangerous.
  • Exercise caution and stay close to the lifeguards. Green flags mean the ocean is calm or clear.  Blue or purple flags usually indicate that potentially dangerous marine life (sharks or jellyfish) are in the area or have been spotted nearby. Use extreme caution. Also remember: Not all beaches are right for swimming, so know the rules before you set foot on the sand.