Cape Town - 111226 - Camps Bay beach was packed with thousands of people enjoying the good weather on Boxing Day - Photo: Matthew Jordaan

Cape Town - The return of summer signals the beginning of busy beaches. It’s a time to enjoy ice-cream, build sandcastles and swim in the surf.

Ed Schroeder, regional co-ordinator for Lifesaving Western Province, says it is also a time to be extra vigilant.

Every year children drown in the waters in and around South Africa, but there are easy ways of preventing the tragedies, he says.

“The majority of these drowning incidents take place in the off-season, on beaches where there are no lifeguards on duty,” he says.

“Only, and I can’t stress this enough, only ever swim when there are lifesavers present.”

The sea is unpredictable, and the current can shift in an instant and drag swimmers out beyond the backline.

Schroeder says that without a lifesaver watching, this could be a death sentence.

“There’s no one there trained to pull you out,” he says. “Friends and family could try to rescue you and also get caught in the current.”

If you find yourself being pulled out to sea, Schroeder says there is no point panicking.

“Just relax,” he says, “and stick your arm into the air and wave strongly.”

While lifeguards will be patrolling beaches throughout the summer, he warns that this isn’t an excuse for parents to let down their guard.

When the beach is buzzing with visitors, he points out that it is impossible for lifesavers to watch everyone.

“Parents have to keep an eye on their kids,” he says. “We’ve had kids drowning in the tidal pools because they were unsupervised.

Schroeder said it was very important that children didn’t give in to peer pressure.

“If you are only comfortable standing ankle-deep in the water, it’s fine.

“Don’t put yourself in danger to impress your friends.”

Meanwhile, in a bid to limit the number of children who go missing at Cape Town’s beaches and swimming pools, the Metro Police will introduce a new system that will immediately link lost children to their parents.

Metro Police chief, Wayne le Roux, says that this festive season, offices would hand children bracelets, bearing their names and the telephone numbers of their parents.

This would be a joint venture between the Metro Police and social development mayoral committee member, Suzette Little.

“The worst thing you can see is a child who is lost and traumatised.

“And there are a large number of children who go missing, especially on the critical days,” says Le Roux.

Le Roux said the children would receive “user-friendly”, colourful bracelets.

And, while you’re out in the sun, CANSA recommends that children and adults:

* Always apply a sunscreen, preferably with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 20 to 50 if you are fair-skinned, use generously on all exposed skin areas.

* Avoid direct sunlight between 10am and 3pm when the sun’s rays are most dangerous. Stay in the shade or under an umbrella as much as possible.

* Protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses with a UV protection rating of UV400.

* Use lip balm with a minimum of SPF 20 and apply regularly. - Cape Argus