With Memorial Day weekend, the first big holiday of the summer season, about to arrive, now is a good time to review ways to stay safe in the Gulf of Mexico.
One of the points Galveston’s Beach Patrol lifeguards always try to get across is the Gulf is not a swimming pool or a lake. It’s a huge, immensely powerful, churning body of water.
You have to treat it with respect and be mindful of your own limitations.
Until recently, the beach patrol never flew green flags over Galveston beaches. The notion was that it’s never really ”safe” to enter the Gulf; you always need to exercise caution.
It was a philosophical policy, but one worth keeping in mind.
Thousands of people swim off Galveston beaches each year and the vast majority of them experience nothing but fun.
Even those who get into trouble usually survive it if they are swimming in areas patrolled by lifeguards.
The ones who drown usually have done something unwise in one of the areas not covered by the beach patrol.
Here are a few simple rules:
Obey warning signs and flags. It’s simple, really.
If the sign says not to swim in an area, then don’t swim there.
Here’s what the flags mean:
• Green — Safe conditions.
• Yellow — Caution.
• Red — Danger.
• Blue — Dangerous marine life such as jellyfish or man-of-war.
Stay away from the rocks.
A lot, maybe most, of the people who’ve gotten into dangerous situations through the years ignored this rule.
Always swim near a lifeguard.
Never swim alone.
Feet first — don’t dive headfirst.
Protect yourself from the sun — drink nonalcoholic fluids, wear sun block and protective clothing.
Understand and avoid rip currents and dangerous areas.
Don’t panic in a rip current — try to call or wave for help.
Never go in after a drowning person — throw a rope or extend a pole.
Dial 911 for a lifeguard.
Spending a few moments to review these tips can make a world of difference in making your holiday weekend a good one. It can also mean the difference between life and death.
• Michael A. Smith