For years the hazard signs at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach warned of rip currents and drownings, but they didn’t offer an advisory to actually stay out of the water. That’s now changed.
The National Park Service, which is in charge of safety at the beach, changed the signs in December to say “wading, swimming and surfing not advised.” The Park Service updated 55 signs along the water’s edge following an NBC Bay Area investigation, which pointed out that the message on the signs didn’t reflect the Park Service’s public announcements that Ocean Beach is not a swimming beach.
“The Park Service does not advise to enter the water under any conditions,” said law enforcement ranger Xavier Agnew. “When NBC did their story on it, they were able to get a wider breadth of audience. Here it’s such a high visitation area that it was really important to get the messaging to people who are visiting for the first time.”
Experts say many people, especially tourists, don’t realize that the frigid temperatures and rip tides at Ocean Beach can be deadly. Last year a group of teenagers from Vallejo linked arms and walked into the water. The waves overpowered Wayne Ausa and Grisham Duran and swept them out to sea.
In just the past two years, seven people died in the waters off Ocean Beach. The Park Service’s Ocean Rescue Unit saved 75 others at risk of drowning.
Rescue patrollers rove the beach to alert visitors to be careful, but only from March through November. For out-of-towners visiting Ocean Beach in the winter, the hazard signs are the only warning they’ll receive.
“The new signs bring a better message to the park visitors we want it very clear to the visitors to decide based on their skill level if they should go in the water,” Agnew said.
Each year more than a million travelers learn about Ocean Beach through ‘San Francisco Travel,’ the most prominent travel association for the city. Last summer, the association’s online guide warned the waters at Ocean Beach are “cold” and advised “extreme caution.” But the website said “swimming is allowed.”
Following NBC Bay Area’s report, the Park Service reached out to San Francisco Travel, and the association updated its website to match the signs. Now the guide says “swimming is not advised” at Ocean Beach.