Pinellas County beaches consistently rank among the best beaches in the world, luring swimmers and boaters to our waters. The Florida Gulf Coast is known for its gently sloping shore and calm waters, but weather conditions, currents, or unsafe choices can turn a beautiful day at the beach into a tragedy. The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) Marine and Environmental Lands Unit gets frequent calls for boaters or swimmers in distress. Planning and preparation are the keys to reducing your risk for drowning at the beach.

It may sound self-evident, but don’t go into the water if you can’t swim. Some people think that if they just wade in the shallow water they’ll be safe as long as they can stand up, but you could be in trouble if a wave catches you off guard or if you step a little bit off a sand bar. Before you know it you’re in over your head. If you can’t swim, you can’t depend on inflatables or pool noodles to keep you safe.

Make sure your child learns how to swim at an early age. This is vital not just for a day at the beach, but in general. Even very young children should be taught how to float and swim in case they tumble into a swimming pool. Never take your eyes off a child in the water. Even if they know how to swim, a child can easily become exhausted or panic, and drown.

Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs) save lives. If you are in or on the water and are not a strong swimmer, always wear a Coast Guard-approved PFD. Even if you are a strong swimmer, it is still a good idea to wear one when on a boat, kayak, or paddleboard. Be aware that there are different levels of PFDs. Some are designed to keep you afloat if you are conscious, while others are designed to keep your head out of the water even if you are unconscious. Choose the PFD that suits the conditions you’ll be in.

Rip currents are the most significant danger to swimmers. They can be found in passes, near bridges or jetties, and on beaches where the offshore topography creates a channel through which water moves swiftly out to sea. Contrary to popular belief rip currents don’t suck people underwater, but they are powerful, pulling people away from shore at up to eight feet per second. Even a strong swimmer who fights this current can become exhausted and drown trying to swim back to shore. If you are caught in a rip current, don’t fight it. Instead swim perpendicular to the current – parallel to the shore – until you escape. If you can’t do this, then calmly float until the current lessens, wave your arms to attract attention, and wait for rescue. Staying calm in a rip current can save your life.

Whether in a pool or at the beach, know what drowning looks like. It’s not like in the movies – usually there’s no splashing and shouting. The signs are more subtle: the person in distress will often have their head tilted back, mouth open near the water level, wide glassy eyes, and a vertical position. If you see these signs, throw the person a floatation device and take other rescue actions.

There are many other safety factors to consider during a visit to the beach, from sunscreen to hydration to securing your valuables – but the most important thing for you to protect is your life and the lives of those you love. Practice good water safety as you enjoy our beautiful beaches.


Posted by Verliz Williams Monday, July 3, 2023 3:20:00 PM

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