Take care on El Salvador's ocean beaches

I know that many people who read this blog do so because they travel to El Salvador on church mission trips -- perhaps to build houses with Habitat for Humanity, to run a medical clinic, or to drill a well. I am often asked about how to stay safe in El Salvador. One thing I uniformly answer is that more people die on mission trips to El Salvador drowning in the ocean than for any other cause.
Mission trips often conclude with a relaxing day enjoying El Salvador's wonderful beaches. But too often, those trips have ended with tragedy:
  • A 54 year old man from Bloomington, Illinois on a trip to build houses in June 2008.
  • A Baptist worker from Missouri in April 2007
  • A mother from Huntington, West Virginia in July 2005
  • A Seventh Day Adventist pastor from New Jersey in February 2002.
  • A Canadian working with SalvAide in 1988.
  • A Peace Corps Volunteer, January 1969.
I am aware of others as well.
Each year dozens of Salvadorans die by drowning in the ocean, including a 22 year old young man who drowned yesterday.   A surfer from the United States drowned in June 2019.
The US State Department advice to travelers to El Salvador includes this statement:
Strong undertows and currents make swimming at El Salvador's Pacific Coast beaches extremely dangerous even for experienced swimmers. Lifeguards are not present at beaches and lakes. In addition, El Salvador’s search and rescue capabilities are limited, and access to medical resources in these areas is inadequate.  Carefully assess the potential risks of recreational water activities and consider your physical capabilities and skills. .
El Salvador has a per capita drowning rate of 5.09 drowning deaths per 100,000 people.

So PLEASE BE CAREFUL. Certainly enjoy El Salvador's beautiful beaches, but follow prudent water safety practices. Don't exceed your own swimming ability. Make sure you talk with someone who knows the beach where you will be swimming and can explain where rip tides and other hazards may exist. Learn about what to do if you get caught in a rip tide:
The real danger with rip currents is not that you're getting pulled away from shore, but how you react.

Most swimmers will panic and try to swim against the current. They will tire quickly and soon go under.

The key to surviving a rip current is to swim out of it, not against it. This is done by swimming parallel to shore.

Since rip currents are fairly narrow you will be out of the “rip” in no time. You can either swim back to shore or let the waves help you back in.
The web page which provided that advice also has more detailed safety information at this link.


David Amdur said…
It's very true. When I coordinated delegations there in the 1990s taking people to the beach was always the thing that most worried me. I've seen the bodies of various drowning victims at the beach, especially during Semana Santa and the August vacations, so having delegation members who wanted to go swimming in the ocean was a bit stressful.