The water temperature on the beach front dropped 12 degrees in three days last week. This is a pretty dramatic shift as only a degree or two makes a significant difference when you’re swimming. Because the water is so shallow here on the upper Texas coast, the water temperature is constantly changing during the fall and spring. A few warm or cold days can have a big impact.

Another factor is when fronts blow through and take the warm water, which sits close to the surface, out to sea, which allows the deeper, cooler water to well up.

With recent water temps in the 50s, getting out on the water requires more foresight and preparation than during warmer months. A quick dip in the water when you’re a couple miles from shore can become a serious thing without proper gear.

Kayakers, surfers, kiteboarders, stand up paddlers, etc., should not only wear a wet suit, but should have the appropriate wet suit for the activity and conditions. When at all appropriate, it’s a really good idea to not just bring a lifejacket, but to wear it. That way when the unexpected happens you’re able to float and wait for help long after the cold water prevents swimming.

When the air is warm, but the water is cold, the conditions are ripe for sea fog. This fog can appear all at once or as a white bank that rolls in.

Our Houston/Galveston National Weather Service office, one of the best in the country, is very tuned in to the aquatic environment and puts out all kinds of relevant marine warnings. Last week there was a fog advisory, but localized fog can happen without warning. Rescue workers from all agencies associated with the Galveston Marine Response coalition, as well as the Coast Guard are kept busy when kayakers and boaters get lost in fog in West Bay and the San Luis Pass areas. Some can be really close to shore, but have no idea where they are.

Aside from proper attire and a Coast Guard approved lifejacket there are a few other things you should do before getting on the water.

First, be sure someone has very specific and accurate information about where you’re going and what times you’ll be out. Having participated in hundreds of searches for people, I can tell you the better starting point a rescuer has, the more likely it is to locate the missing person.

Make sure your cellphone is charged and in a waterproof case. If you have a smartphone, there are apps that can help you find your way around, but don’t rely on electronics. A small watch compass has gotten me out of a jam more than once when I was training on my surf ski a couple miles from shore and a fog bank rolled in.

Most importantly, take a moment to think of all the things that could go wrong before getting out there, then plan accordingly. Remember that Murphy’s Law is twice as likely to apply when on the water.

Peter Davis is chief of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol. The views in this column are Davis’ and do not necessarily represent those of the Beach Patrol, Galveston Park Board of Trustees or any other entity.

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