Outdoor Safety Tips

Rhode Island's network of state parks, beaches, and campgrounds welcome close to 9 million visitors each year. Are you planning a visit? Knowing these safety tips will help you have a safe, fun, and relaxing time.


 

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Beach Safety Camping Safety Boating/Fishing Trail Etiquette Secure Vehicles Winter/Ice Safety


State lifeguard watches over beachgoers at Charlestown State Beach  

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Beach Safety

double red flag

Water Closed to Public
single red flag

High Hazard High Surf and/or Strong Currents
yellow flag

Medium Hazard Moderate Surf and/or Currents
green flag

Low Hazard Calm Conditions, Exercise Caution
purple flag

Dangerous Marine Life

BEACH WARNING FLAGS

Rhode Island DEM’s Division of Parks and Recreation uses a colored flag system to denote ocean conditions each day at state beaches. The eight Rhode Island State Beaches are Charlestown Breachway, East Beach in Charlestown, East Matunuck in South Kingstown, Misquamicut in Westerly, Roger Wheeler, Scarborough North and Scarborough South, and Salty Brine in Narragansett.

During the beach season, remember to swim only in designated swimming areas, near lifeguards and listen to safety announcements.

RIP CURRENTS

Rip currents can be extremely dangerous to even the strongest swimmers. If caught in a rip current, don't fight it! Swim parallel to the shore and swim back to land at an angle. If you can’t swim out of the current, float or tread water while waving and yelling for help. It's always a good idea to check-in with lifeguards and listen for announcements on beach and ocean conditions so you can stay away from surf hazards. Find more tips and resources for "breaking the grip of the rip" here.

HIGH SURF ALERTS

Rhode Island often experiences needless tragedy during storms when wave-watchers or anglers who have climbed onto rocks near the shore get hit by waves, are quickly swept out to deep water, and drown. Along with some anglers, "storm watchers" put themselves in danger by standing too close to the surf on rocks along the shoreline in fishing areas, breakwalls, and breachways. Stay safe by remaining far away from areas where waves might splash over. Waves possess enormous force and can easily sweep a person into the water from what seems to be a safe viewing area. Get the latest surf forcast here.

FIN SIGHTINGS

Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) has developed guidelines for fin-sightings that occur at Rhode Island’s eight state beaches. When a fin is sighted in the waters off a state beach, RI State Parks staff will evacuate swimmers from the water. The protocol calls for swimmers to remain out of the water for an hour after an actual or suspected shark sighting, while DEM marine biologists and environmental police investigate the sighting. We take our responsibility to protect the health and safety of visitors to state beaches very seriously and it requires a high level of cooperation between DEM staff and divisions.

The waters off Rhode Island are part of a natural ecosystem that contains some risk for people. In the ocean, this includes interacting with sharks. Sharks help maintain the balance of ocean ecosystems as a large marine predator. At any given time, we know that blue sharks, mako sharks, sand tiger sharks, thresher sharks, and great whites are present in our waters along with a wide diversity of other marine species. It is impossible to eliminate risk, but here’s how to minimize interactions with sharks and reduce overall risk.

SHARK SAFETY TIPS:

  • Stay out of the ocean at dusk, night, and dawn
  • Avoid areas with schools of splashing fish or diving seabirds
  • Avoid murky water
  • Swim, paddle, and surf in groups
  • Avoid swimming in areas with seals
  • Swim where your feet can touch the bottom
  • Always follow instructions from lifeguards
 

Download Printable Shark Flyer

Quick Fin Identification

shark fin sighting tips
dolphin fin sighting tips
sunfish fin sighting tips
 

DEM’s Division of Marine Fisheries works in collaboration with The Atlantic Shark Institute, the University of Rhode Island, and local charter boat captains to monitor and better understand the presence of sharks in our state waters.

A network of acoustic receivers are positioned on buoys throughout Rhode Island waters to detect fish that have been acoustically tagged. To date, the receivers have detected a variety of species, including sand tiger sharks, river herring, Atlantic sturgeon, and skates. By far the most common species detected from these receivers is striped bass, which several researchers from universities and government agencies have tagged over the last ten years.

The data collected from this initiative helps researchers better understand the timing of arrival and departure for seasonal species, identify areas of critical habitat or importance for taxa, and capture the presence of species that are not well detected in traditional fisheries surveys. It will also be used to support determinations of stock assessments, quota management, and public safety practices. Learn more at www.dem.ri.gov/marine.

Sharks of Rhode Island

Shortfin Mako


Shortfin Mako

Very pointed snouts and long gill slits with dark blue/gray backs, light blue sides, and white undersides. Up to 13 feet in length.

Blue Shark


Blue Shark

Long, pointed pectoral fins. Long, rounded snout with slender body. Dark blue above; bright blue sides; white underside. Up to 12.5 ft.

Sand Shark


Sand Shark

Flat, conical snout. Adults have reddish-brown spots scattered, mostly on the hind part of the body. Up to 18 ft.

Shortfin Mako


Thresher Shark

Blackish pectoral, pelvic, and dorsal fins. Sickle-shaped tail. Upper body is extremely long, about half the length of their body. Up to 20 ft.

Blue Shark


White Shark

Conical snout with first dorsal fin large, triangular in shape. White to brown or black above, shading to gray-white below. Up to 21 feet.

Hammerhead Shark


Hammerhead Shark

Head broadly arched and hammer-shaped. Color is deep olive to brownish-gray above, shading to white below. Size up to about 13 ft.

  RV campers at Fishermen's Memorial State Campground in Narragansett  

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Camping Safety

WILDLIFE

Cooking is part of the fun of camping, but it can attract wild animals to your site. Be sure to secure food by storing it in your vehicle, cleaning up scraps, and anticipating which animals you may encounter at a site and acting accordingly. Learn more about common RI species of wildlife.

FIREWOOD NOTICE

You have the power to save trees. Don’t bring firewood with you on your camping trip. Protect our public lands from forest pests like the Emerald Ash Borer by purchasing your firewood where you'll burn it. Learn more about RI's forest pests.

  Boaters and anglers at Charlestown Breachway  

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Boating & Fishing Safety

WEAR IT!

Anyone going out in a boat, canoe, kayak, or vessel of any kind should wear a life jacket to help ensure they enjoy a safe experience. According to a United States Coast Guard (USCG) report, eight out of 10 boaters who drowned were using vessels less than 21 feet in length. Smaller vessels such as canoes and kayaks are less stable than larger vessels and in strong currents paddlers using them can put themselves in danger. Drowning is the reported cause of death in 75% of all boating fatalities. Of those who drowned, 86% were not wearing life jackets.

"There is no time to put a life jacket on before a boating accident. It would be like trying to buckle your seat belt before a car crash. Smart boaters wear a life jacket from the time they board a boat until they return to shore. - Lieutenant Michael Schipritt, Rhode Island DEM Division of Law Enforcement's boating safety coordinator.

Today's life jackets are comfortable, stylish, and easy to wear. Some aren't even old-fashioned, bulky orange jackets anymore, having been replaced by innovative options such as inflatable life jackets that allow mobility and flexibility for activities like boating and fishing

  • Most boating fatalities are the result of capsizing or falls overboard, not collisions between boats running at high speed. Experts recommend that people who end up in the water stay with the boat, even if they can't get back in. They are more likely to be seen by potential rescuers if they are next to a boat. A person should only swim for shore if wearing a life jacket, the likelihood of rescue is low, or they are close to shore and aren't able to climb back into or on top of the boat.
  • Where the level of instruction was known, 77% of deaths occurred where the operator did not receive any boating safety instruction. (USCG 2020 statistics)
  • Only 12% percent of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator was known to have received a nationally-approved boating safety education certificate.(USCG 2020 statistics)
  • Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in all fatal boating accidents.(USCG 2020 statistics)
 

Boating safety education has helped reduce boating accidents in Rhode Island, and it is the law. In Rhode Island, successful completion of a boating safety course is required for all boaters born after January 1, 1986, who operate a boat with a motor greater than 10 horsepower; and regardless of age for all operators of personal watercraft (jet ski). For information on classroom courses or to access DEM's free online course, visit www.dem.ri.gov/safeboating.

FISHING IN COLD WATERS

Even on a warm day, water temperatures can linger in the low to mid-50s in cooler months. According to a U.S. Coast Guard report, a boating accident is five times more likely to be fatal if the water is colder than 60 degrees. Using small, unstable vessels like canoes and kayaks in water that's deceivingly cold puts anglers in a very dangerous situation.

"Cold water can kill in ways that you might not expect. Nearly everyone knows that immersion in cold water can cause hypothermia – the abnormal lowering of the body's core temperature. The effects of a cold-water immersion event, however, can contribute to death well before any drop of body core temperature." - Lieutenant Michael Schipritt, Rhode Island DEM Division of Law Enforcement's boating safety coordinator.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard Safety Division, victims who experience an unexpected fall overboard suffer initial cold-water shock in the first minute, which involuntarily causes them to take a series of big breaths, called hyperventilation. If their head is underwater, they can inhale more than a quart of water and drown immediately. People lucky enough to keep their head above water will continue hyperventilating as their blood pressure jumps. If they can't control their breathing within 60 seconds, they'll suffer numbness, muscle weakness or even fainting, which leads to drowning. A person with heart disease may experience sudden death due to cardiac arrest.

A victim who survives the first minute of cold shock and hyperventilation will progress to the second stage, called "cold incapacitation" or swimming failure. Within about 10 minutes, rapid cooling of the extremities causes muscle stiffening so a person will no longer be able to perform the simplest tasks, such as swimming, holding onto a floating object, or putting on a life jacket. Even yelling for help can be difficult.

Hypothermia is the third stage. There is a common misconception that it sets in almost immediately after a person lands in cold water. However, a victim won't start to become hypothermic for 30 minutes. Severe hypothermia can take an hour or more to set in, depending on the water temperature, body mass, clothing, the amount of struggling, and other factors. A body core temperature of 95 degrees is considered hypothermic, loss of consciousness occurs at about 86 degrees, and death is imminent when the core temperature drops below 82. Unless a person is wearing a life jacket, drowning will occur long before severe hypothermia sets in.

 

Boating safety education has helped reduce boating accidents in Rhode Island, and it is the law. In Rhode Island, successful completion of a boating safety course is required for all boaters born after January 1, 1986, who operate a boat with a motor greater than 10 horsepower; and regardless of age for all operators of personal watercraft (jet ski). For information on classroom courses or to access DEM's free online course, visit www.dem.ri.gov/safeboating.

HIGH SURF ALERTS

Rhode Island often experiences needless tragedy during storms when wave-watchers or anglers who have climbed onto rocks near the shore get hit by waves, are quickly swept out to deep water, and drown. Along with some anglers, "storm watchers" put themselves in danger by standing too close to the surf on rocks along the shoreline in fishing areas, breakwalls, and breachways. Stay safe by remaining far away from areas where waves might splash over. Waves possess enormous force and can easily sweep a person into the water from what seems to be a safe viewing area. Get the latest surf forcast here.

  Hikers at John H Chafee Preserve in North Kingstown  

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Trail Etiquette

  • Hikers coming uphill have the right of way. If you’re descending the trail, step aside and give space to the people climbing up.
  • Bicyclists yield to hikers and horses. Come to a full stop and step to the side to give the right of way. Be mindful of the plants or animals that are near the trail if you must step off the trail.
  • Hikers yield to horses. Slowly and calmly step off to the downhill side of a trail. If you approach from behind, calmly announce your presence and intentions. Horses can frighten easily, so avoid sudden movements or loud noises.
  • Respect signage that restricts or disallows dogs. It may seem disappointing to not be able to take your dog exploring, but they can cause a lot of problems for wildlife (stress, disease, predation). Whether posted or not, dogs should be leashed to keep them away from wildlife and their homes and nests, especially during the breeding and nesting seasons. Please pick up after your dog and take it with you! Never leave bags of dog waste at trailheads, along trails, or the woods.
  • Remember to know where you need to wear safety orange!
  • When in doubt about something just remember the "golden rule" — treat other trail users how you want to be treated, and respect wildlife and our natural places.
  • Learn more trail tips here
 

FLUORESCENT ORANGE REQUIREMENTS

Orange safety clothing must be worn by everyone in state management areas and undeveloped state parks, including hikers, bikers, and horseback riders, to stay visible to hunters. Solid fluorescent (blaze) orange must be worn above the waist and be visible in all directions. Examples are: a hat or vest that covers 200 square inches or a combination of hat and vest covering 500 square inches. Bright yellow and fluorescent camouflage do not meet this requirement.

Where to wear orange Planning a hike and unsure if a location allows hunting? Look for signage at the site, visit ExploreRI.org or use the DEM's interactive Outdoor Recreation map.

Hunters in Rhode Island are responsible and public lands remain safe for all visitors to enjoy while following this safety requirement. By wearing orange and being aware of hunting seasons, non-hunters can ensure they are visible and stay safe. Hunter education is offered as part of DEM Division of Fish & Wildlife's Hunter Education Program and safety training is required by law in Rhode Island for beginning hunters. Hunters are taught to clearly identify a target and what is beyond it before shooting. To date, more than 40,000 people have completed a hunter safety course in Rhode Island, helping to reduce related accidents in the state and elsewhere.

How much orange to wear:

map of times of the year orange safety clothing is required
  • 200 sq. in. by small game hunters during the small game season, fall turkey hunters while traveling, and muzzleloader deer hunters during the muzzleloader deer season.
  • 200 sq. in. by archers when traveling to/from elevated stands during the muzzleloader season. Once in an elevated stand, archery deer hunters are exempt from the orange requirement during the muzzleloader season.
  • 500 sq. in. by all hunters (including archers) and all users of management areas and undeveloped state parks during all portions of shotgun deer seasons.
  • Hunters using pop-up blinds during the firearms deer season must display 200 square inches of fluorescent orange visible on the outside of the blind from all directions. Hunters must also wear orange in accordance with the rules for the specific seasons while in the blind.
  • Exemptions: Raccoon hunters when hunting at night, crow hunters while hunting over decoys, spring turkey hunters, first segment dove hunters, and waterfowl hunters while hunting from a boat or a blind, over water or field, when done in conjunction with decoys. Fluorescent orange is not required in areas limited to archery-only hunting by regulation.
  • All other users of state management areas and designated undeveloped state parks, including but not limited to: hikers, bikers, and horseback riders are required to wear 200 square inches of solid daylight fluorescent orange from the second Saturday in September to the last day of February and the third Saturday in April to the last day in May.
 

Learn more at www.dem.ri.gov/orange.

Parking area at John H Chafee Preserve in North Kingstown  

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Keeping Vehicles Secure During Your Stay

Remember to use common sense with your belongings. Thefts can be avoided when items aren’t left in plain sight or unsecured, such as on your beach blanket or at your campsite. By following these few, simple tips you may be assuring yourself a safe, fun, and relaxing visit:

  • Be watchful of your belongings and don’t leave them unattended – this includes leaving items out on your beach blanket or at your campsite.
  • Don't leave valuable items in plain view inside of your car. Leave them at home or lock and secure valuables inside your vehicle’s trunk before you arrive.
  • You should always lock your car, even if you’re going to be away for just a few minutes.
  • Park only in designated parking areas and spaces (this will save you from getting a parking ticket, too!)
  • Report suspicious activity to DEM Division of Law Enforcement at 401-222-3070.
 
 

Outdoor Safety Tips

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Beach Safety Camping Safety Boating/Fishing Trail Etiquette Secure Vehicles Winter/Ice Safety