CLEARWATER BEACH — Every year, as soon as temperatures rise and schools let out, thousands of people flock to the shore to take refuge in the sugary white sand and calm Gulf of Mexico waters.
And while a beach day is considered a relaxing escape for many, the annual influx of visitors beginning Memorial Day weekend means more work for those tasked with keeping beach-goers safe.
For the lifeguards who patrol the mile-and-a-half of public beachfront, summer is a season filled with stingray sightings, heatstroke victims and other stressful situations. But Clearwater Beach Water Safety Supervisor Patrick Brafford said people can take comfort in the fact that they’re visiting a well-protected beach.
“Starting around Memorial Day weekend, the beach gets very crowded, and it keeps us hopping,” said Brafford, who has worked there for three years.
“It’s a very diverse beach, so we deal with a wide range of issues, everything from cardiac arrest to diabetes to athletic injuries. But we have a good guarded area with five towers and extra help during the summer months, so we are able to monitor it and handle it well.”
Brafford said the most common situations that Clearwater Beach lifeguards deal with are heat-related illnesses, stingray strikes, jellyfish stings and missing children.
He estimated the five lifeguard stations handle roughly 12 to 15 reports of missing youngsters per day, and each one can take anywhere from five minutes to three hours to resolve.
“We want people to know they have to keep an eye on their children when they are at the beach,” Brafford said. “It’s very easy for a kid to wander off when they are playing on the sand or near the water, because everything looks the same.
“Tell the kids beforehand where to meet should they get lost, and parents can even write the nearest lifeguard station or beach access number on kids’ hands to simplify things for safety personnel.”
In addition to those calamities, other issues plaguing beachgoers in the summer include riptides, sun- and heatstroke and drinking-related illnesses.
And while the number of issues increases every year because of the addition of new events and the growing popularity of the beach, Brafford said many problems could be avoided by being cautious and aware.
“The big thing we stress is beach safety and awareness,” he said. “Know your lifeguard situation, and swim near one of the five towers. Shuffle your feet when you’re in the water to avoid stingrays, and use sunblock and stay hydrated to avoid heat illnesses.
“The visitors to Clearwater Beach are very fortunate because the city puts a big emphasis on keeping this beach protected all year-round,” he added. “We take pride in being recognized as one of the safest beaches in Florida to visit.”
For more information on beach safety, visit the Florida Beach Patrol Chiefs Association website at www.fbpca.org or the United States Lifesaving Association online at www.usla.org.