Mardi Gras is the official kickoff of the tourist season, but spring break is definitely the sign that beach season is underway.

We have lifeguard tryouts on Saturday. There’s information on our website. We will have the inaugural Lifeguard Academy running during spring break. We also have many of our returning seasonal employees coming back to re-qualify and start working, so there will be tower guards out from here on.

We’ve scheduled a full complement of rescue trucks on patrol covering much of the island, as well as continuing the on-call service we provide year-round. All the other emergency service groups are similarly prepared.

But even with all those extra layers of protection, you and your family’s safety rests primarily in your hands. So, please get everyone you know to swim near a lifeguard and stay far from the rock groins. Tell them not to swim at the ends of the island, don’t drink and swim or drive, enter the water with their children, pay attention to signs and flags, don’t swim alone, and don’t dive in head first. And remind them to stay hydrated and protect themselves from the sun.

The three areas you should be especially aware of when it comes to safety over spring break are rip currents, the danger of hypothermia, and the ends of the island.

Rip currents are narrow currents that pull away from shore. Typically, here they occur near the rock groins and piers and don’t go much past those structures. They pull out — but not under. They pull sand with them, so the areas near these structures can be deep. It can be dangerous for most people to swim in that area, so we have signs warning people away and post our lifeguard towers in those areas so the guards can help remind swimmers to stay far from the area.

If for some reason you’re caught in one, you should relax and float and don’t try to fight or swim against the current. If you can swim well, try swimming out of the current by swimming parallel to the shore one way or the other. If you see someone in the rip, don’t go in after them. Instead throw a line or float, like the ones in the rescue boxes on each groin.

Another big danger right now is that the water is very cold. You don’t want to stay in long before coming to shore and warming up. If you feel sluggish and weak, or start shivering, leave the water immediately and get warm.

The third thing you really want to watch for is on both ends of the island. The tidal flow bottlenecks at both the ship channel and the San Luis Pass. It’s dangerous to swim or wade in either place.

All that said, this is definitely the time to get out and enjoy some nice beach time. If you take a few reasonable precautions it will be worth the effort.

And say hi to the lifeguards while out there.

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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