Visit Phuket

Phuket Water and Sea Safety Tips

Red warning flags on the beach

The sea surrounding Phuket is part of the island’s natural splendour and the main reason that many people choose to spend their holidays here. The clear warm waters are enticing, and are pretty safe for most of the year. The sea does contain dangerous creatures, such as sea snakes, lionfish, stonefish and jellyfish. However, it’s only really jellyfish that could concern swimmers, and these are not much of a problem on Thailand’s Andaman coast.

You should exercise a lot of caution while swimming off the west coast of Phuket during the rainy season (May – October) due to rough seas. Waves can be quite high, 4 feet or more, with strong rip currents. Several tourists drown during the rainy season each year and many more have to be rescued. Bear in mind there are no lifeguards on Phuket’s beaches except Kata and Karon. Do not swim in the sea if there are red warning flags on the beach.

Points to remember:

  1. Never go swimming when drunk. The most common cause of drowning is alcohol intoxication.
  2. If you are stung by a jellyfish, treat the area with ammonia or vinegar and seek medical attention.
  3. There are many poisonous reef creatures, all of which are not aggressive. Look but don’t touch and you should be fine.
  4. If you are cut by coral, seek medical attention, even for minor cuts. Many corals contain toxins and will also splinter in your skin, causing infections.
  5. Do not overestimate your swimming abilities. If the surf is big and you are not a strong swimmer, don’t venture into the sea.
  6. If you get caught where the waves are breaking, duck under the waves and allow them to pass over you. Getting repeatedly hit by breaking waves is no fun and will tire you out, increasing the risk of drowning. You only need to dive a couple of feet below the surface. The wave should pass over you very quickly.
  7. If you are really struggling and can’t get back to shore, get out beyond where the waves are breaking as it will be a lot calmer there, as long as you can keep yourself afloat. Catch your breath and signal for help.
  8. Watch out for rip currents during the rainy season. These can be very dangerous and can be strong enough to pull even the strongest swimmers out to sea. If you are caught in one, do not fight it. Swim parallel to the shore and when you are out of it, head towards shore at an angle away from the current. (See below for more information).

Rip Currents

Rip currents are caused by the process of shore water re-circulating back into the sea. This process occurs all the time at every beach that experiences wave action. This is only dangerous to swimmers when the rip current is strong. Strong winds or distant storms can cause a swell which increases the amount of water brought ashore in the form of waves.

If you do get caught in a rip current, the first thing to remember is not to panic. Panicking wastes energy and causes irrational behavior. It is also important to remember that as long as you can float you should be fine and that everyone can float.

Unless you are able stand on the sea floor and walk towards the shore, do not head straight for the beach as swimming against the current will only make you tired and increase the risk of drowning. Swimming parallel to the shoreline will help you escape from the current. Once you feel you are out of the current, swim towards the shore at a 45 degree angle away from the rush of water.

The width of the outward current channel, known as the ‘neck’, is proportional to the steepness of the beach. The steeper the beach, the narrower and stronger the current channel. So if you feel the current is particularly strong, chances are the neck should not be too wide.

If you can’t break out of the current, float calmly and let the rip current carry you 50 to 100 yards from the shore until it dissipates, then swim back to shore at an angle away from the rip current.

You can spot areas where the neck of the rip current is by looking for where there are not many waves breaking. Since rip currents are channels of water flowing seaward either carving or finding a depression on the sea floor, the water depth is actually greater than at other places along the beach. The greater depth results in there being less waves. The waves will also rise and break later than at other parts of the beach. Another indicator is that the water in the neck of the rip current is normally a brownish colour. This is because it is carrying sand out to sea.

Other places to avoid strong rip currents are near rocks, the extreme ends of the beach and where water is flowing into the sea.

Further reading: Howstuffworks has some great info on rip currents

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