Haelen Betancourt was working our San Luis Pass Patrol last weekend and rolled up on a large group of adults and children swimming in the ship channel. Most of them were in shallow water, with a few of them farther out.

There was an area which was pretty shallow, which was semi-protected by an underwater curving peninsula that protected them from the worst of the strong tidal current that was flowing. Only the ones farther out in chest to neck deep water were in immediate danger of being swept into the deeper water. Haelen’s partner stayed in the vehicle and she walked over to talk to the adults in the group. The conversation went something like this:

“Hey how are you all? I just wanted to let you know that where you are swimming is really dangerous because of the strong tidal current. That’s why we post the signs that say not to swim and why there’s a city ordinance that prohibits swimming.

“Would you mind either not entering the water here or moving to the beach front past the signs where it’s safer to swim?”

“That’s ridiculous! We’re fine here. There’s hardly any current and we’re all good swimmers. We’re not moving.”

“I know it feels like it’s not dangerous and believe that you’re good swimmers, but things change quickly here with currents and water depth changing with the tide. We’ve had several drownings over the past years, so it’s now against the law to swim in these waters here. Would you please move to the beach front where you’ll be safer?”

Now, Haelen is a pro. She’s the daughter of Rudy Betancourt, who was a Beach Patrol supervisor forever, and was my riding partner for 10 years. She also swam for the Galveston Island Swim Team under Beach Patrol Capt. Tony Pryor for years, helped her dad with his umbrella business as a young child, was in Junior Guards for five years, and has worked as a lifeguard for a long time.

She doesn’t ruffle, knows the beach and is great at conflict resolution. But even she had to threaten involving law enforcement so these people wouldn’t drown. But eventually she got them to stay out of the water after much back and forth, and enduring a lot of accusations and profanity.

That group wasn’t atypical. It’s hard to convince some people to not do things that endanger themselves in general, but especially at the San Luis Pass. We have, up to this point this year, moved well over 7,000 people out of the water at the pass. Not all of them cause as much of a problem as this group caused Haelen, but a significant number do.

But the extra headache and resources we, and our partner public safety and volunteer groups, spend down on the West End are very much worth the effort. Drownings have dropped significantly despite increased usage. One has to wonder how many of those 7,000 people wouldn’t have made it back to shore if Haelen and her fellow guards weren’t 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.

(2) comments

Ron Paget

Thank you for the job you and your team do for visitors and island residents. I live very near to the beach and yesterday was watching a family get further and further out and the red flag was flying. I saw one of your guards near 77th street, walk quite a distance and after repeated attempts, got the attention of the adult and persuaded them to move closer in. It was such a relief! Thank you for all that you to do insure safety for visitors and residents who may not realize how tricky currents can be,

Miceal O'Laochdha

I remember Haelen from when she was just a little child going around town with her Dad. I am happy to hear she has grown up to be such a valuable member of the community and followed Rudy's path as a Lifeguard. Good for you Haelen!

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