Oregon Parks & Recreation Remind of Beach Safety
By Robert J. Smith, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Beach Safety Education Coordinator
March 4, 2011
Oregon State Parks is gearing up for another camping season along the coast. Spring break is just around the corner, and campgrounds are filling up quickly. Many people will also visit day-use areas to beachcomb, swim, fish and hike.
The powerful storms that recently hit Oregon should remind springtime visitors to the coast to be especially careful. Logs near the surf or on wet sand are susceptible to waves, and makes them dangerous to be near. Wave tossed driftwood piled on the beach is unstable and dangerous to climb.
The same waves that piled driftwood have eroded and weakened cliffs and hillsides. For your safety, stay on trails and respect fences and boundaries. Ignore these warnings, and risk injury or worse.
This year spring break coincides with extreme tides, both low and high. Low tides make for prime tide pool exploring. If your spring break plans include a visit to the tide pools, keep in mind that extreme low tides usually mean high tide will roll in quickly. Check the tide tables, and don’t get trapped by the incoming tide. Free tide tables are available at many shops and motels, as well as state park offices and information centers.
While tides are fairly predictable, the waves along the Oregon Coast are not; add the extreme tides and the recent storm activity and you have the potential for disaster. Large unexpected waves will sweep over outlying rocks and jetties. Assume nothing is “high enough,” and avoid exposed rocks, jetties and headlands during and after storms or whenever the waves are strong.
Rip currents are another example of the ocean’s unpredictability. They are strong “rivers” of water that flow out to sea. Rip currents can pop up anywhere, but are more common near headlands and jetties. They are hard to see, but there are some clues. Dark, choppy water that breaks up the incoming wave pattern, or foam and debris floating out to sea are all signs that a rip current is near. Sometimes surfers will use the rips to carry them through the waves to prepare for their next ride. Keep an eye on the surfers and you may get a clue about a rip current you hadn’t noticed. If you find yourself swept out, don’t try to fight the current. Swim parallel to the beach until out of the current and then swim back. Consider fitting children and non-swimmers with a brightly colored life jacket.
Spend some time watching the ocean before settling in to enjoy your day. If you have small children with you, keep them nearby. A good rule of thumb—if you are close enough to play catch with a beach ball, you are close enough to help. Set some boundaries for older children. Help them identify locations that are off limits, like outlying rocks and cliffs. Place a limit on wading. Anything more than knee deep can be dangerous. Another good idea is to decide on an escape route. Where will the family go should a big “sneaker wave” appear?
Coastal state park rangers want your visit to be enjoyable and safe. So come to the beach and take part in all the wonderful activities, but always remember to play it safe. By remembering the basic rules and being aware of your surroundings, you can have a fun and safe spring break at the beach.