It’s unbelievable that the water stayed in the 70s until December this year. There have been people swimming in the ocean all fall during times that normally only surfers equipped with proper wetsuits normally venture out. Our year round staff has been busy while patrolling keeping people away from rip currents near the groins and responding to a myriad of beach emergencies. Hopefully the water will stay cold enough to keep the casual beach visitors out for a couple of months so our crew can rebuild lifeguard towers and take care of all the projects we postponed until the two months we don’t usually patrol. Of course we’re still available for emergencies and provide rescue response 24/7.
In the winter getting out on the water requires more foresight and preparation than during warmer months. A quick dip in the water when you’re a couple miles from shore can become a serious thing without proper gear. Kayakers, surfers, kite-boarders, stand-up paddlers, etc. should wear the right wetsuit for the specific activity and conditions. When at all appropriate it’s a really good idea to not just bring a lifejacket, but to wear it. That way, when the unexpected happens, you’ll be able to float and wait for help long after the cold water prevents swimming. Sometimes in the winter, and often in the spring, the conditions are ripe for sea fog. This fog can appear all at once or as a white bank that rolls in.
Our Houston/Galveston National Weather Service office, one of the best in the country, is very tuned in to the aquatic environment and puts out all kinds of relevant marine warnings. When we see cold air and warm water they may put out a fog advisory, but localized fog can happen without warning. Rescue workers from all agencies associated with the “Galveston Marine Response” coalition stay busy during these times when kayakers and boaters get lost in fog in West Bay, San Luis Pass and the Coast Guard typically handles the off shore area.
Aside from proper attire and a Coast Guard approved lifejacket there are a few other things you should do before getting on the water, especially during the winter. First, be sure someone has very specific and accurate information about where you’re going and what times you’ll be out. Having participated in hundreds of searches for people, I can tell you the better starting point a rescuer has, the more likely he/she is to locate the missing person. Make sure your cell phone is charged and in a waterproof case. If you have a smart phone, there are apps that can help you find your way around, but don’t rely on fancy electronics! Be sure you have a back up. A small watch compass has gotten me out of a jam more than once, and I personally never go out on the water without wearing it.
Winter on the beach and water can be incredible, just be sure and take appropriate safety precautions. And have fun!