JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. -

You may be surprised to hear that a lot of children get lost at the beach. It is the number one problem lifeguards encounter during the summer months. There are three important things to do before you take your children to the beach.

Have a plan if they get lost

No one ever plans for something bad to happen, which is why many parents and children have no idea what to do if they become separated at the beach. It’s why it is so important to have a plan, just in case your child wanders off. “Educate them to go straight to a lifeguard, as soon as they realize they don’t know where they are. Go to the first lifeguard they see and ask for help,” said Sgt. Tom Crumley with the Jacksonville Beach Police Department.

He says children tend to panic and start running, which takes them even further away from their family or friends. “We’ve even found children as far south as Ponte Vedra Inn and Club and as far north as Mayport,” says Crumley.

Lifeguards say it’s not unusual for a child to wander 1-2 miles away. When asked the age of children who are most likely to wander off, Captain Rob Emahiser says, ”as soon as they are old enough to walk and we even get senior citizens in their 80s.”

Designate a child watcher

Police and lifeguards says parents don’t realize how quickly a child can wander off. The children have so many distractions between the water, the sand and seashells. Designate someone in your group to do nothing but watch your child. Take turns. Magazines and cell phones are a distraction, whomever is designated to watch needs to put those distractions down and just focus on the child(s) they are watching. If everyone does this, children won’t get lost.

Teach your child your cell phone number. If they are too young, write your number on their flop flop or other clothing

Capt. Emahiser says many of the children who have become lost are too young to either tell them how to reach their parent or are special needs and cannot communicate easily. Anything that helps reunite children with their parent is important. Sgt. Crumley says he’s seen parents write their phone number on their child’s flip flop, which is a big help if they are lost. “You can also write a phone number or address on a wrist band the child is wearing,” said Crumley.

Jacksonville Beach lifeguards have a plan if your child is lost.

Emahiser says, “First thing we do is get a description of that child that is missing and put that description out over the radio so all our towers can have an eye on the beach. Usually one of the lifeguards will shortly see that child running by and hopefully be able to stop them or at least direct a vehicle toward them,” he said.

If a child is abducted, he says lifeguards and police also have a plan in place to take action quickly.

One more reminder. Emahiser says parents need to alert them as soon as they can’t find their child. The more time that passes the further away their child wanders, making it harder to find him or her. Parents get panicked and lose track of time. That time is important to estimate how far the child has wandered down the beach so they know where to look.