Ocean Safety When Traveling

Ocean Safety When Traveling

After crawling my way to shore, the first thing I see is red. A trail of bright red blood litters its way across the sand from the water’s edge to where I now sit, writhing in pain. 

My eyes focus on the blood-covered extremity in front of me and the deep gash across the ball of my foot. As soon as I feel the throbbing pain escalate, it hits me like a ton of bricks – I have been swiped by the dangerous barbed tail of a stingray.

Intense pain shoots through my foot and up my left leg. I grab my swollen ankle with both hands, hoping that I can somehow stop the poison from spreading throughout my body. It’s nothing like I had imagined; stingray victims don’t properly prepare you for this kind of torture.

My foot continues to gush blood from the gaping wound as our surfing buddy runs to get help at the lifeguard tower 1/2 mile down the beach…


Ocean Safety When Traveling


After living by the ocean for 6 years and teaching little ones about ocean safety as a surf instructor, I’ve come to know the stingray shuffle well.

I’m probably more careful than most people in that my shuffles are very exaggerated and if I’m surfing, I’ll usually ride by board on my belly for as shallow as possible to avoid stepping on a stingray, sea urchin or sharp reef.


In addition to doing the stingray shuffle in sandy areas, here are a few more things to keep in mind when playing in the ocean during your travels:

  • Always ask a local or research online beforehand to get an idea of the precautions to take at the beaches in the area. Some areas are known for sea urchins, some have dangerous rip tides and others can have razor-sharp reef. Most beaches with lots of tourists and children have sandy bottoms with not much to worry about. If you are venturing to an uncrowded spot, just make sure you are more aware and bring reef shoes if necessary.


  • When surfing or swimming in an uncrowded area, there is more of a chance of stingrays roaming around. The only good thing about surfing or swimming in a crowded area is that those other people have more than likely scared away some of the bottom dwellers.If you like to get away from the crowd, just be more careful and step lightly when you step down from your board, raft or other floating device.


  • Rip currents are important to be aware of when swimming or floating in the ocean. A rip current (or rip tide) is a strong channel of water flowing seaward from near the shore.Rip currents can be dangerous to even the strongest swimmers if you don’t know how to react once you notice yourself floating out to sea. Luckily, most rip currents are less than 100 feet wide, so all you need to remember is to stay calm and swim parallel to the shore until you feel like you are out of the rip. Once you are out of the rip, then you can safely and easily swim to shore.

Ocean Safety When Traveling
We saw these sea urchins while walking around in waist deep water on Koh Phangan island in Thailand. Thankfully the water is crystal-clear and we were able to avoid stepping on them.


What to Do If You Get Stung by a Stingray


  • Immediately go home, a hotel or to the nearest lifeguard station to treat it. Unfortunately, it took at least 25 minutes before we were able to get to hot water and the pain progressively gets worse every minute that you don’t soak it.


  • Soak the wound in the hottest water you can stand (NOT hot enough to burn your skin!). A lifeguard station won’t give you anything for the pain, but if you are at home, take some Advil. Don’t take aspirin. It thins the blood and allows the toxin to travel easier.The story behind hot water treatment is that it deactivates the poison. Stingray venoms are composed of heat-labile proteins, therefore soaking the wound in hot water will alter the structure of the protein molecule.


  • Soak the wound until your foot starts to feel better. The pain won’t be completely gone, but it should feel dramatically better after 1-2 hours.If you notice shortness of breath, chest pain, hives, swelling in the face or anything that would indicate that you are having an allergic reaction, call 911 immediately.


  • If you have a big cut, make sure to clean it well and often. If it looks like there is still a barb in the wound, you should get it surgically removed.


  • If you notice the wound not healing or getting worse over the next few days, seek medical attention. My cut was at least an inch deep and got infected, so I had to get antibiotics. Don’t be stubborn like me and wait a week to get it checked out.I was also told that some doctors don’t know this, but if you get cut through a wetsuit or flippers, you will require different antibiotics. Apparently the run-of-the-mill antibiotics won’t work if rubber gets inside the wound.


If you are wondering what to do if you step on or brush up against a sea urchin, here is a great article on how to treat a sea urchin sting.

Photo Credit: Arend Vermazeren



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  1. We I live, people often stand on weaver fish. I’m a lifeguard and our beaches are very crowded, we deal with more weaver fish stings than anything else

  2. Great advice!! I grew up being taught to do the stingray shuffle too but it’s funny the number of people I tell about it and they just look at me with a blank face.

  3. Boston Hotel Special Offers says:

    Ocean Travel, is the best experience. It its like entering into a new world with new buddies ( ocean creatures). Information is appreciable. With different colors of nature, you will find that ocean friends are actual so unfriendly.

  4. BeyondBlighty says:

    Really interesting points. I didn’t know most of this. I’ve just arrived on the coast and will be going snorkelling and scuba diving in the next couple of weeks, so you may have just saved me a lot of discomfort!

  5. Rease Kirchner says:

    Oh my God this is terrifying! As if I wasn’t scared enough of the ocean already! I’m so glad you knew what to do. These are good tips but I think I’d rather just have you with me!

    1. Ordinary Traveler says:

      Oh no, Rease. I gave you a new sea creature to fear. 🙂 I don’t think you want me with you though – I may freak you out even more now that I know how bad it hurts. lol

  6. Malaysian Meanders says:

    Thanks for the information. Hopefully, I will never have to use it, but it’s good to know.

  7. Country Skipper says:

    How scary! I’m so sorry that it even ended up getting infected. Glad to hear you’re ok though! I’ve seen many rays before in the Red sea, but never really thought what they could do to me… The blue-spotted rays are one of my favorite photo subjects, but reading your article kind of makes me reconsider… I think their tails are not all that innocent either.

  8. Catherine Sweeney says:

    I’m glad that you’re OK after the stingray injury. That’s the kind of
    thing that would scare the daylights out of me. Great tips here that
    I’ll pass along to my husband who loves being in the ocean.

  9. Ouch! That sounds super painful. Glad the pain eventually subsided that day. Despite living in San Diego, I just realized I really had no idea what to do if stung by a stingray. (I also didn’t know it was THAT painful – yikes.) Now I know thanks to this article, though hopefully I’ll never have to put it to use!