Beach Safety

There is nothing like a great day at the beach, but accidents can occur. Marine animals, structures along the beach and rip currents can turn your enjoyable day into a potential nightmare. By understanding what to look out for and how to deal with some of the potential dangers, you can leave the beach with just a suntan and good memories!

Beach Warning Flags

Condition Warning Flag

Part of Florida's beauty is our beaches. We are able to travel to throughout the state and enjoy this wonderful natural resource.  For years, many of our public beaches and beach communities posted warning flags denoting water conditions. Unfortunately, differences in flag colors for different beaches created confusion among beachgoers.

In an effort to improve the effectiveness of this system and to improve safety of our public, the Florida Legislature decided that a uniform flag system would provide the best measure of safety and, in 2005, amended Section 380.276, F.S. Now, all public beaches in Florida with lifeguards must use the state flag system.

This "Warning Flag System" is in place on our lifeguard towers.  With a quick glance at a lifeguard stand, beachgoers are able to keep abreast of existing water conditions and know that the guards will monitor conditions and will change the flags throughout the day in order to keep patrons informed.

Florida’s beach warning flag program uses flags in four colors accompanied by interpretive signs along the beach to explain the meaning of each color.

Lightning

Each year in the United States, there are about 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning flashes and about 300 people struck by lightning.  Of those struck, about 30 people are killed and others suffer lifelong disabilities. Most of these tragedies can be prevented.

When thunderstorms threaten, get inside a building with plumbing or electricity, or a hard-topped metal vehicle! The National Weather Service collects information on weather-related deaths to learn how to prevent these tragedies.

Many lightning victims say they were “caught” outside in the storm and couldn’t get to a safe place.  Other victims simply waited too long before seeking shelter. With proper planning, similar tragedies can be avoided. Some people were struck because they went back outside too soon. Stay inside a safe building or vehicle for at least 30 minutes after you hear the last thunder. While 30 minutes may seem like a long time, it is necessary to be safe.

The Lifeguards on our beaches are trained to watch for lightning and will close the beach when it is determined that it is a threat. You will hear a whistle blast and see a double red flag on the lifeguard tower.

No place outside is safe when thunderstorms are in the area! This is the reason we clear the beach totally when lightning is detected. Stay in safe shelter at least 30 minutes after you hear the last sound of thunder.

The Lifeguards will change the flag color when it safe to return to normal beach activities.


Rip Current Safety and Survival

Rip currents are responsible for the majority of drowning deaths in Florida. Learn more about rip currents and the best way to survive if you get caught in one.

RIP Current

Many of the drowning incidents in Florida have been attributed to rip currents.  They are powerful natural phenomena in which even Olympic swimmers cannot make headway.  The lifeguarding profession has found that the most powerful tool we have to fight rip currents is education.  If you understand how rip currents form and the proper escape technique, your chance of survival if caught in one is greatly increased.  Approximately 80% of rescues by lifeguards at America's surf beaches involve rip currents. 

Rip Current Formation

When waves break, water is pushed up the slope of the shore. Gravity pulls this water back toward the sea.  A rip current forms when the water that has “piled up” on shore rushes back out to sea in a narrow path; this usually occurs where there is a break or “breach” in a near shore sandbar, or if the current is diverted by a groin or jetty. Most rip currents are temporary and the trouble spots are less than 30 feet wide.

Rip currents may pull continuously, but they can suddenly appear or intensify after a set of waves, which pushes more and more water up onto the shore.

Rip Current Survival

When swimming, choose an area protected by lifeguards. If you are not a strong swimmer, go no further than knee deep. If you decide to swim, check the conditions first to identify any dangerous currents. Ask a lifeguard for assistance, they are there to help you.

You can sometimes identify a rip current by its foamy and choppy surface. The water in a rip current may be dirty (from the sand being turned up by the current). Waves usually do not break as readily in a rip current as in adjacent water.

If caught in a rip current, try to relax. A rip current is not an "undertow" — it will not pull you under. Do not try to swim against the current, as this is very difficult even for an experienced swimmer. If you can do so, tread water and float. Call or wave for assistance. If no help is available and you need to get back to the beach on your own, swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current, then swim directly toward shore. Let the waves do the work. Swim with the waves back toward the beach, take your time, and remember to duck under the larger waves.

Information supplied by the U.S.L.A
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Red Tide or Karenia Brevis

For daily red tide conditions updated at 10 a.m and 3 p.m, go to visitbeaches.org and select Coquina or Manatee Beach on the map.

The algae that exist in our waters are important to our marine environment and the majority of algae species are not harmful. Yet, under the right conditions, the one called Karenia Brevis can grow rapidly. When the conditions are right, this algae can explode in number and this is called a "bloom". These blooms can be so large that it can make the gulf waters appear red or brown, so it is referred to as RED TIDE.

When a huge bloom occurs, Red Tide can produce a sort of gas that is dispersed in the air. This gas is called a "brevetoxin" and is responsible for killing fish and other marine organisms that come in contact with it. Florida is not alone when it comes to Red Tide, because red tide blooms occur all over the world. It seems like Florida's blooms are highlighted in the news more often than other areas that experience this phenomenon. The other areas, around the world, that have experienced Red Tide are Scandinavia, Japan, the Caribbean, and the South Pacific. 

According to Mote Marine Laboratory, the first scientific documentation of Red Tide was back in the fall of 1947, when residents of Venice, Florida witnessed thousands of dead fish and a reported that a "stinging gas" was in the air and history also shows that Floridians reported events like this as far back as the mid-1800s.

We now know that Red Tide blooms move like jellyfish... its movement is impacted by wind and tides.  This makes predicting the appearance and severity of red tide almost impossible.

Risks Associated With Exposure To Red Tide

From what we can see, people who swim in Red Tide or breathe in the brevetoxins can experience eye, nose, and throat irritation, as well as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. It is believed that people who suffer from respiratory illnesses, like asthma or emphysema, can have more severe reactions.

In addition to killing fish, shellfish are also impacted due to the fact that brevetoxins can become concentrated in their tissues.  People who eat these shellfish may come down with a neurotoxic shellfish poisoning that causes severe gastrointestinal and neurologic symptoms, such as tingling fingers or toes.

Manatee County Marine Rescue is involved in a Red Tide Program with the Mote Marine Laboratory, located just 12 miles away, and our personnel are up to date with red tide water testing results and any blooms that may exist in the area. Our lifeguard staff is well aware of the signs of red tide and will post signage and flags when this phenomenon occurs.  If you have any questions about red tide or other beach conditions, please ask your nearest lifeguard. 

More Red Tide Information

The Marine Rescue Division depends on two research institutes for information regarding our marine environment and they are the Florida Wildlife Research Institute (located in St. Petersburg, FL) and the Mote Marine Laboratories (located in Sarasota, FL).  

Their efforts, regarding the study of the marine environment, are crucial to the understanding, protection and preservation our waterways and other aquatic ecosystems.  For more information about Red Tide and about these agencies, please use the links provided below:

Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium
1600 Ken Thompson Parkway
Sarasota, FL 34236
PH: 941-388-4441

Fish and Wildlife Research Institute
100 Eighth Avenue SE
St. Petersburg, Florida 33701-5095
PH: 727-896-8626

Piers, Jetties and Rocks

When you come to our beaches, you will see a variety of man-made structures.  These include large concrete piers, smaller concrete jetties surrounded by rocks, and wooden trestle-like jetties built to contain large boulders and rocks.  These structures were built in the 1950s for "beach retention," or to help maintain the conditions of the beach.

Unfortunately, these structures have been eroded over the years, and in some cases, they have become unsafe.  These concrete and wooden structures, along with the rocks that surround them, are not safe to walk on, climb on or swim near.  Waves, currents and the marine life (barnacles, oysters etc) that grows on these structures can easily lead to injury.

Please pay attention to the signage on these structures, the barricades that are erected on some of the larger piers and, most importantly, the direction of the lifeguards.  If you hear a whistle, stop what you are doing and look for the lifeguard; he or she may be trying to steer you away from trouble.

Beach and Park Ordinances

Manatee County owns and operates recreational areas and facilities including beaches, parks, conservation lands and golf courses.  In order to maintain these facilities and bring greater clarity and consistency to its parks and recreation regulatory scheme, the County Commission has adopted Chapter 2-24 of the County Code, which governs parks and recreation.

The County Commission found this to be necessary for the health, safety and welfare of all persons who patronize the county's parks and recreation lands and facilities, and to preserve them for future generations.

View Park Ordinance 2-24