Having fun but staying safe on Alabama’s waterways

Beach safety ahead of holiday weekend

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - As the temperature heats up so does activity on Alabama's waterways.

While boating on the lake or swimming in the Gulf of Mexico can offer family fun, the water can also be dangerous.

"Unfortunately, we had several accidents last year," said Sam Castanza the District Chief for the Montgomery Fire Department's special operations division.

The fire department’s special operation division trains in open water like the Coosa River. Castanza says the water can be dangerous for even the best of athletes.

“Our guys, they work out every day while they’re on shift everyone is in, you know, peak physical condition. And it is still tiring, it’s still exhausting for them to work in it,” Castanza said.

Castanza said it is important to never underestimate the power of the water. And don't overestimate your ability to swim.

Castanza says that is it is important to always wear a life jacket, no matter your swimming ability.

“If an accident happens, you get knocked unconscious. A lot of times people prepare for the fact that yes, I can swim. So, I don’t need a life jacket.” Castanza added.

Your safety at the beach, however, begins before you arrive at the coast.

Melvin Shepard with the City of Gulf Shores said you need to know and understand the beach flag system before you get in the water. Flags are posted at all public beach areas and beach conditions are monitored throughout each day.

It does not have to be a Red Flag day for conditions to be dangerous.

“If you can’t swim, every day is a Red Flag day to you,” Shepard said. “So, we try to educate people on that, that, you know, do not overestimate your abilities, don’t think it’s a swimming pool.”

Shepard says if you are not a good swimmer, stay close to shore.

“You hear people refer to undertow on the beach and there is no current that pulls you under. What you have is the backwash from the waves breaking on the shore, as that water returns to sea another wave breaks over that, so that backwash can pull you under an incoming wave,” said Shepard. “Then if there’s a rip current in the area, you can be pulled into the mouth of recurrent and then pull out rather quickly, so there’s a lot that goes into it. But once you once you come off your feet and you’re not playing into the sand, now you’re [a] floating piece of debris.”

Both men agree, it is important to not only wear a life jacket but to make sure it is Coast Guard approved.

Shepard says if you use a boogie board as a flotation device make sure that it is the leash is strapped to your wrist.

“If the leash is not on the board, I will tell the parents that they really need to get rid of it and go by and double and because that that leash can really save their life. If they get separated from it. They can pull it back to them and get back on top of it,” Shepard said.

Castanza also advises swimming and boating sober. Combing alcohol with the water can be a dangerous combination.

“We’ve seen time and time again, how that leads to tragedy.” Castanza said.

You should also monitor the weather when on the water as it can cause conditions to change quickly.

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