Staying Safe in the Waters of Aruba

Underwater view of an array of tropical fish on a reef.

Colorful fish inhabit the reefs off the shores of Aruba. Photo © vilainecrevette/123rf.

In the past, the easy going, unregulated island life rarely prompted much thought to cordoning off swim areas. Before the advent of the tourism boom, the beach- and shore-fronts were vast and the population was small. As the number of resorts grew, each resort personally took on the responsibility of marking a protected area of the sea for the safety of their guests.

Take care not to fall asleep on a float; it is not unheard to wake up far from land.

A line of buoys placed by the Coast Guard beyond the swim areas in Palm Beach designates a “no wake” zone. Here, fast boat traffic is prohibited. Those crossing the zone while ferrying passengers to larger boats are required to maintain slower speeds, less than would create a large wake. Swimmers and snorkelers should avoid the areas beyond the swim zone because of the frequent boat traffic.

All boat operators are now required to take courses and obtain at least a “Small Boat License.” They must learn safety procedures and “rules of the road” to do business. The current government has initiated a program to station trained lifeguards in the towers along the beach, which have stood unoccupied for decades.

Properly cordoning off swim areas, particularly on the busier beaches, is still an issue left to private concerns. Currently, the swim area markers are maintained by a dedicated enterprise contracted by the hotels. Part of that process is to clean the ropes regularly. Soft corals will begin to grow on underwater ropes, which sting and cause a very irritating rash. Swimmers should avoid sitting or clinging to swim barrier ropes at all times. If exposed, try a topical steroid to relieve the pain and itching.

Aruba’s offshore breezes are delightfully cooling. It is partially this wind that helps to keep the waters on Palm Beach so quiet. The drawback is that they tend to blow objects out to sea, including beach balls, lightweight floats, and other fun water toys. The wind also tends to create a gentle wave motion at the surface, which is often not noticeable but is steadily moving out to sea, away from shore. Keep a close eye on youngsters in swim rings and lightweight floats.

Take care not to fall asleep on a float; it is not unheard to wake up far from land. Most float and small craft operators keep a small rescue boat handy for just such instances. Even if you don’t go anywhere, falling asleep in the middle of the giant sun reflector that is the Caribbean Sea may prove very distressing. It is no fun being stuck in a hotel room with a sunburn.

Scuba divers are trained to never dive alone, but always with a buddy. This common sense rule is wise for almost anyone indulging in water activities on the sea. Don’t go off by yourself to snorkel in areas with which you are unfamiliar. Inform friends or family where you are going and when you expect to be back (within reason). Dive operators and snorkel charters can provide buddies and will keep an eye on patrons. They are experienced in handling distressing situations on the sea. Those indulging in some unusual water activity for the first time are advised to do it in supervised circumstances.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Aruba.

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