Accidents and drownings at the beach are preventable, but prevention requires awareness, officials say
There have been five drownings on South Padre Island beaches this year, including a Harlingen man who drowned on June 6.
Two occurred within the Island’s city limits, the SPI Fire Department said. Three others were at county beach accesses, Cameron County Parks Police said.
“A lot of our visitors aren’t used to the beach or the currents. Sometimes they’ll get into the currents and panic, which causes a lot of problems. But a lot of people come here who don’t know how to swim,” SPI Fire Chief Marcus Smith said.
Smith said basic steps such as checking the weather and paying attention to warning flags go a long way. Beachgoers also should be wary of wildlife, such as jellyfish, watch for rip currents and check for injuries if a swimmer is caught in a current.
The warning flag system uses three colors: red, which means heavy surf and dangerous currents; yellow, which signals a common to moderate surf; and blue, which warns to watch for wildlife.
If a person gets into trouble, or witnesses a distressed swimmer, they should call 911 or flag down a lifeguard, Smith said.
“If you have anything that can float, throw it to them,” he said. “There’s almost always something on the beach they can use.”
Parks Police Chief Horacio Zamora said beach injuries are preventable, but require smart decision-making.
“Still, sometimes if you’re doing everything right, and you get caught in a current, it’s very easy to drown, especially if you panic,” Zamora said. “Swimming against the current makes it worse.”
In that case, swimmers must swim parallel to the current or let the current take you where it takes you, Michael Johnson, Chief of Cameron County Beach Patrol said.
Officials advise that you stay calm.
“The currents don’t pull downwards. The people make themselves tired by swimming against the current,” he added. “Let it take you where it takes you. If you’re at a skill level to swim, swim parallel to shore.”
The current could pull you offshore. In that case, you might be noticed and be rescued, officials said.
Ultimately, the key to preventing drownings is more education, Johnson said.