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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

Where Ocean Safety Starts

June 09, 2002

The Pacific rolls majestically onto Orange County shores, marking the passage of time in a sunny place. It reminds residents who catch a passing glimpse in any season of its power and place in their lives. The approach of the summer season brings even closer encounters, as thousands flock to the beach to test the waters and get relief from the heat.

But lurking behind the beauty are summer safety hazards related to the hidden power of the sea. Big swells generated by distant oceanic conditions hit the beaches and create tides that can carry swimmers out to alarming distances. Rip currents create strong flows of water potentially causing swimmers to panic if they lack the expertise to swim out of them safely. These currents also can propel swimmers into the hazards awaiting on rocks, piers, pilings and jetties.

For many, the lifeguard is the traditional first line of warning and protection against this array of waterfront dangers--to give advice on water conditions, to deliver first aid and to carry out the traditional role of performing rescues. But having lifeguards costs money, and there is mixed news this season. While local beaches seem adequately covered, state beaches are not as well staffed.

Six state beaches in Orange County will have fewer lifeguards this summer because of the state deficit, literally a sign that it is harder to hit the beach running when dollars become scarcer. City beaches are better off, and San Clemente has even had the wherewithal to hire some extra lifeguards from a strong group of candidates.

But even on Orange County beaches where full staffing is possible, safety should not be taken for granted. That's especially so in locations that may be short on personnel. Protection from powerful currents and hazardous shoreline conditions often is a matter of an individual's willingness to learn about local conditions and to make intelligent choices on where to swim. A lot can happen on busy days, or in waters just beyond protected areas.

A day at the beach is supposed to be fun, but without proper education on local conditions and taking due precaution, it can be dangerous. Whether there are fewer lifeguards, as is the case at state beaches, or an adequate number at city sites, water safety really is everyone's concern. Beachgoers shouldn't rely only on the lifeguard stand to deliver them from waterfront troubles. Instead, they should exercise common sense to avoid many surf-related problems.

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