Admire our lovely beaches, but stay away from the water — that's the message that was delivered Wednesday at a multi-agency news conference in Half Moon Bay that highlighted the dangers that exist on Northern California beaches in winter months.
The U.S. Coast Guard, the National Parks Service and the California State Park Department stood in solidarity at the Half Moon Bay Pier to heighten awareness and emphasize the dangers that exist at beaches along the California Coast.
"We have had so many tragic drowning incidents occur recently in the Bay Area that we needed to get the word out about how dangerous the rip tides, sneaker waves and high surf are to people," Alexandra Picavet with the National Parks Service said yesterday.
Picavet said that the victims of the recent drownings occurring just before the holidays and into the new year have been locals, not tourists, prompting the agencies to send out the message that the ocean can be both unpredictable and dangerous at any time of year, but especially in winter.
"It is more dangerous this time of year due to high surf conditions and sneaker waves," said Picavet, who described sneaker or rogue waves as unusually large waves that come after a series of regular wave action, sneaking up on a person, catching them off-guard.
Sneaker waves can come at any time, officials point out. A person could be walking along a dry portion of the beach, watching the surf for hours and without warning, a sneaker or rogue wave can come out of nowhere and reach the dry portion, much further than the other waves in that series, Picavet said.
While winter is always a dangerous time for sneaker waves at California beaches, officials said this year has been especially deadly.
The Saturday following Thanksgiving, three family members drowned in the waters off an Arcata, Calif. beach, after a mother and father attempted to save their teenage son who was swept out to sea while attempting to rescue the family's dog.
A father and son fishing in the Marin Headlands were pulled out to sea by a rogue wave on Dec. 30, their bodies pulled from the waters near the Golden Gate Bridge.
On New Year's Day, a 59-year-old Richmond man drowned after heading into the surf in Bodega Bay to save his wife and their dog that had been knocked to the ground by a large wave. Bystanders rescued the woman and the dog but were unable to reach the husband, who had been pulled under the water by nearly 12-foot waves.
Officials Wednesday banded together to inform the public of the dangers near the ocean and to warn bystanders to call 911 instead of attempting to rescue a struggling swimmer pulled out to sea. Coast Guard officials demonstrated how it conducts a rescue, but warns that rescues must be conducted by trained professionals.
"If you see a person struggling, keep your eyes on them and have someone call 911 right away," Picavet said. "You really need to be trained in water safety to be safe in saving someone. In many cases, these incidents represent people underestimating the surf and overestimating their abilities."
Keeping your eyes pinpointed on a victim will help rescue officials locate the victim, according to Coast Guard Petty Officer Pamela Boehland. "We do not recommend going into the water — so many times we see the rescuer going into the water and becoming a victim, too."
With all Northern California beaches absent of lifeguards in the winter, officials offered some very real techniques to keep people safe near sea.
Small children, those with injuries and even moderately strong swimmers need to be aware of sneaker waves and the high surf's unpredictability. Officials warn beachgoers to never turn your back to the waves. Parents should never leave children unattended near water.
"A lot of erosion occurs on Northern California beaches and it takes only about 6 inches of water to take down a fully grown adult — it won't take much to take a little person," Boehland said.
If you should get caught in a riptide, swim parallel to the shore because rip tides pull you out to sea.
"If you fight it, all that will happen is that you'll lose your energy and when the rip tide finally lets you go, which it will, you'll have no energy to swim back to shore," Picavet said.
If a dog is pulled to sea, Coast Guard officials warn people to allow the dog to self-rescue.
But if you must go to the beach this winter, Picavet asks people to consider an alternate plan.
"Bring a Badminton game or buckets for sand castles to the beach — or consider going to another spot in the winter — the Bay Area is brimming with open lands and places to go and have fun experiences that don't involve the beach or dangers the ocean might present."
Boehland warns, "The Pacific Ocean is a treacherous body of water and we must respect it. Nobody is more responsible for their own safety than yourself — keep yourself, your kids and your pets safe."
— Bay City News Service
Copyright © 2012 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.
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