Hole Safety: How Deep Is Too Deep to Dig at the Beach?

Digging to China is not without its dangers on the beach
Digging to China is not without its dangers on the beach, Photo: Peter Dean/iStock/Thinkstock

On July 22, 2014, tragically, a young man died after a hole he dug at the Frances State Beach in Northern California collapsed around him. The hole was estimated to be 10 feet deep. Though dozens of bystanders tried to dig him out with their hands, by the time they got to him, it was too late.

It seems that every summer, somewhere in the United States, wherever there is surf and sand, a similar event happens. Perhaps the motivation to dig a hole at the beach, as deep as you can, is steeped in the restrictions that are placed on us as children. For instance, my research reflects that the average depth of sand in a Hamptons Kindergarten sandbox is less than 6 inches. Once a child gets to the bottom of that shallow box, there is nothing left but the memory that there is a point below the sand where one can go no farther. And that is what sets the challenge for the future.

Fast forward 10 or 15 years and why shouldn’t we expect someone at the beach to try “digging to China”.

As responsible citizens of the East End, we must be diligent to ensure that those who do seek that mighty dig, do so in a safe and responsible manner. With respect to this, and in consideration of beach digging safety, I have sought the counsel of a well-respected East End building engineer (who wishes to remain anonymous). This engineer has offered some useful suggestions and protocols that should be established for hole safety at all area beaches:

1. All holes deeper than 6 feet should be reinforced with concrete walls to prevent cave-ins.

2. All holes should be cordoned off with yellow caution tape.

3. Anyone digging a hole deeper than 6 feet should have an auxiliary breathing device on their person capable of sustaining life for a minimum of 90 minutes.

4. All holes deeper than 6 feet should require a permit from the local jurisdictional authority.

5. A gas-operated water evacuation pump, capable of evacuating no less than 50 gallons per minute, must be on site at all times.

6. Any person contemplating digging a hole deeper than 6 feet should have to pass a beach digging OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) safety exam.

Until such time that these types of protocols can be advertised and enacted, the only responsible thing to do is to prohibit all beachgoers from digging holes greater than 6 inches. Welcome back to kindergarten! Have a fun and safe time at the beach.

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