San Diego People: Dangers at the beach

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — San Diego is home to some of America’s most beautiful beaches and thousands of people come every year to enjoy them.  Lifeguards say it’s important to keep safety tips in mind when you go, and this week on San Diego People, we go in-depth on beach safety issues.

Rip currents are one of the biggest dangers to watch out for.  Rip currents are caused when waves breaking into the surf zone push large amounts of water ashore.  That water then travels seaward, creating currents. 

"One of the biggest problems we have with rip currents is when people step off those sandbars and get back to those troughs." said Lt. John Sandmeyer from San Diego Lifeguards.  "A lot of times, they want to get back where they started from, but by that time it’s too late because they’re already moving a few knots out to sea, so the trick would be to break the strength of that rip and get back to the sandbar.  To do that, you’ve got to swim sideways or parallel to the shore."

According to the United States Lifesaving Association, more than 80% of rescues involve saving someone caught in a rip current. Last year, San Diego Lifeguards rescued more than 7,000 people.  They say children are the biggest risk.

"It’s the number two cause of drowning for kids under the age of 15," said Capt. James Gartland.  "When you’re at home, you’re always the lifeguard. You should be watching yourself and keep track of the kids and just be safe.  If you can’t swim, wear a properly-fitted Coast Guard approved lifejacket."

Another common beach danger is boating safety.  Mission Bay is one of the only places in California where you can travel more than five miles per hour on the water, so it attracts a lot of boaters and water-skiers. But lifeguards have a problem with seeing people driving too fast and too close.

"The biggest thing we coach up is circulate counterclockwise anytime you’re within 100 feet of another vessel or skier or any other shoreline." said Lt. John Sandmeyer.  "It’s five miles per hour, so you’ve really got to keep a bubble all the way around you of 100 feet if you want to go over five miles per hour."

Another problem that lifeguards see is people boating under the influence.  They say it’s treated just like DUI, except the legal limit is even lower than driving.

"If you are .04 or above and you get pulled over for an infraction or you’re in an accident then you’re facing a serious problem." said Lt. John Sandmeyer. "Too often we see people who get on board and think it’s time for a party, but we’re really vigilant on that. San Diego Police are out on the water as well and Homeland Security and Coastguard are out on Mission Bay and San Diego Bay and we make that a top priority watching alcohol violations."

But the dangers at the beach aren’t just in the water. San Diego’s rugged coastline draws in a lot of people coming to the cliffs.  Last year, San Diego lifeguards rescued 100 people from cliff areas.  The most common danger spots are at Sunset Cliffs and Torrey Pines.

"What people need to do is read the signage." said Capt. James Gartland. "There are signs that say "stay back unstable cliffs." these cliffs are made out of sandstone. They do fall. They are not super stable and the City does a good job of trying to put signage up."

Gartland says many of the rescues happen when people just aren’t paying attention.

"A lot of our cliff rescues are people taking photos or not paying attention, or looking at their phone.  It happens. In that area and in that environment, you have got to be aware of where the cliff edge is and stay on the trails.  If you’re on the phone and doing something, stay back.  If you’re taking a picture, have your phone dialed in and have it dealt with before you get to the cliff edge."

To learn more beach safety tips, visit the San Diego Lifeguards website at: https://www.sandiego.gov/lifeguards

Categories: Local San Diego News, San Diego People