Following a winter filled with ocean-related fatalities and rescues, emergency responders in the Bay Area are urging the public to be more extra careful around the water.
“Each year is actually very dangerous in the wintertime,” said Alexandra Picavet of the National Park Service. "But this year has really had some tragic moments.”
The list of tragedies is extensive: A teenager and his parents drowned trying to save the family dog in Humboldt County; a father and son swept to their deaths in Marin County by a rogue wave; a husband died trying to save his wife who swept to sea while walking her dog in Marin.
“These are people who live in the Bay Area,” Picavet said, “who’ve been caught by rogue waves -- they’ve been knocked over by six-inch waves.”
Rogue waves, sometimes called sneaker waves, are disproportionately large costal waves that sometimes "sneak" up without warning. They often catch swimmers unaware, washing them out to sea.
Safety experts offered several key safety points people should observe when visiting shorelines.
- Keep children within arm’s reach.
- Always use the buddy system when swimming, fishing or surfing
- Learn CPR
- Don’t try to rescue people or animals from the surf, instead call 9-1-1.
“If your dog goes in the water, do not go in the water after it,” advised Jeff Wadkins, a lifeguard with California State Parks. “The dogs are great swimmers, they are going to find their way back to the beach.”
On Wednesday, a Coast Guard helicopter crew staged a surf rescue drill off of Half Moon Bay, site of the popular Maverick’s surf contest. As a trained swimmer bobbed in the surf, a rescuer lowered down from a winch aboard the chopper. The Coast Guard stages similar drills every month.
“The best advice we give to people is to not turn their back on the water,” said Pamela Boehland of the U.S. Coast Guard. “When it’s a beautiful day out, people underestimate how powerful the water can be.”
But even though officials intended the drill as a reminder of the dangers along the coast, they also wanted to send a message that the professionals won’t always be on hand in the event of an emergency.
“You can’t count on a professional or trained person to be your safety net,” Picavet said.
Picavet urged people to check for surf advisories before visiting beaches and coastline.
She also advised changing plans to avoid getting close to the water if it at all seems risky.