The Salt Life: Playing it Safe

By Julie Vargo, Editorial Contributor

With hundreds of miles of beaches and countless hours of sunshine, Florida has its own set of unique safety hazards. Sharks, alligators, riptides and brain-eating amoeba — yes, Florida has them all. But spending time outdoors in the Sunshine State also presents its share of less exotic safety problems — from Mother Nature’s heat, humidity and sunshine to the man-made risks posed by water scooters, golf carts and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). 

Whether you choose to frolic on land or sea, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. With a few precautions, though, that someone needn’t be you.

Surf and Turf 

“Nothing ruins a good time more quickly than an accident,” says Dr. Matthew Lube of Orlando Health Medical Group Surgery. “Riding recreational motor vehicles like golf carts, Jet Skis and ATVs is fun, but also increases risk of injury.” Basic tips include making sure the driver is age appropriate for the vehicle, rides a safe distance from others, and never drinks and drives. “Unlicensed recreational vehicles present their own unique safety issues,” says Dr. Lube.

Here’s how to stay safe and have fun. 

Water Ways 

Water scooters can zip across the lake at speeds up to 60 mph and are involved in 25 percent of all marine accidents in the United States, sending riders to the hospital with fractures, lacerations, bruises and concussions. Most accidents occur when water scooters run into a dock, another watercraft or a tree stump. Without brakes, water scooters can take up to 300 feet to stop. 

To stay safe:

  • Wear a life jacket
  • Wear the engine cutoff key on your wrist so the engine will stop if you fall off
  • Take a safe boater course before driving

Course Work

Golf carts transport us from hole to hole on the course and house to house in the suburbs. But emergency rooms see their share of golf cart-related injuries. Blame the lack of seat belts and open-enclosure design, coupled with the force of sharp left turns, for people falling out.

To avoid problems:

  • Use a golf cart with seat belts
  • Slow down on turns
  • Use the brake when stopped

Ground Cover

Motorized ATVs can weigh 600 pounds and reach 65 mph across terrain. ATV accidents result in emergency room visits for contusions, abrasions, fractures and even fatalities.

To prevent harm:

  • Wear a helmet and protective gear
  • Do not drive on paved roads
  • Fasten seat belts 

Hot Times

Hot, humid days define Florida’s weather. But they also increase the likelihood of heat-related illnesses, which occur when the body’s core temperature escalates. 

Don’t blame the sun alone. “Seventy percent of heat stress is related to humidity, not sunshine,” says Dr. Harrison Youmans, a sports medicine physician with Orlando Health. “A hot day with humidity, cloud cover and no direct sunlight is very dangerous for heat-related illness.” 

Heat exhaustion results in headaches, nausea and dizziness. Life-threatening heatstroke manifests in symptoms of confusion, fainting and potential coma.

To avoid heat-related illness:

  • Stay hydrated
  • Bypass caffeine
  • Cool off frequently in air conditioning or shade
  • Opt for loose, light-colored, sweat-wicking clothing

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