Beaches are great places to relax and to swim in the Gulf of Mexico. But before taking a dip, Pinellas County Parks and Conservation Resources reminds beachgoers to be aware of rip currents.
According to the United States Lifesaving Association, rip currents are the leading surf hazard for beachgoers and can occur at any beach with breaking waves.
The association says swimmers should avoid areas that show signs of rip currents, which include a channel of churning, choppy water, an area with a notable water color difference, a break in the wave pattern and a line of foam, seaweed or debris moving steadily out to sea.
“Swimming at a lifeguard-monitored beach is the best way to stay safe,” said Katherine Cleary, aquatics supervisor with Pinellas County. “When conditions indicate rip currents may occur, we put up warning flags or in some cases close beaches to swimming altogether.”
County lifeguards are on duty 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (unless otherwise posted) daily from March to September at the county’s Fort De Soto, Fred Howard and Sand Key parks.
Lifeguards on Clearwater Beach are on duty 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily from March 1 – Labor Day along the beach from Clearwater Pass to 80 yards north of Pier 60, and between Rockaway St. and Avalon St. The day after Labor Day through the end of February, lifeguards are on duty from Clearwater Pass to 80 yards north of Pier 60 from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
If a swimmer is at a beach with no lifeguard on duty and gets caught in a rip current, the lifesaving association has a few tips to keep in mind.
• Remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
• Don’t fight the current. Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline or float and calmly tread water until out of the current.
• Once out of the current, swim towards shore.
• If unable to reach shore, draw attention and yell for help.
For information on Pinellas County beaches, visit www.pinellascounty.org/park/beaches.htm. For additional information about rip currents, go to the United States Lifesaving Association website at www.usla.org.