Galveston lifeguards

Pictured from left are, Dain Buck, Joey Walker and Andy Moffatt using a jet water pump to sink sign posts along the beach.

Cold front after cold front have been rolling in. We’re now in my favorite time of the year, with moderate temperatures, warm water, some surf and variable conditions. But this comes with specific hazards.

Changing winds can take people by surprise. On the beachfront a switch to offshore wind can blow you offshore. Once there the waves are rougher and can prevent you from making it back in easily. Strong side-shore winds typically produce strong rip currents near any type of structure like a groin or pier.

These rip currents dig deep troughs by the structure and can pull people out when they step off into the deep area. And of course, big thunderheads can roll in causing lightning, gusty wind or even waterspouts.

The tower guards are not going to be back on the beach until March, but we do have our rescue trucks patrolling the seawall and beach parks. That said, you should be more cautious than usual and stay farther from structures and closer to shore. Also check the weather forecast before heading out to beach or bay.

Be particularly careful in boats this time of year because things can happen quickly. Of course, as always, use a Coast Guard approved lifejacket while boating. If you have a small child or are a poor swimmer a lifejacket is always a good idea when in or around the water.

Our year-round crew has been out patrolling daily and will continue to do so throughout the winter months. But with fewer people on the beach there is more time to catch up on some maintenance.

This week they’ve been working on getting signs back up that were knocked down in the recent high tides. We maintain over 300 signs up and down the beachfront, and it’s a constant process keeping them up.

Every time the surf or tides get unusually high, we have to get out there with a water pump and reset the posts, or we need to re-attach signs that were blown down.

Of course, we have signs to warn about areas that are dangerous to swim in like the groins or the ends of the island. But we also have beach ordinance signs on the back of each tower and rip current and beach rule signs at the base of every staircase, beach park entrance and paths that people use to access the beach on the east end.

We even have signs to warn about underwater rocks and debris. And if there is a rip current that pops up unexpectedly in an open beach area, we have temporary sandwich board signs warning the public.

These signs require much work to maintain, but we don’t have the resources, personnel or ability to be everywhere all the time. At least the bilingual, iconic signs we place around the island give the public a chance to avoid dangerous areas when they see them. A sign will never replace a lifeguard, but they are an integral part of the safety net.

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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