Ask our brave friends in the Coast Guard and they will tell you with cool assurance that the people who survive a rescue at sea are wearing lifejackets. Those who fish or sail without wearing one have little chance of surviving a dunking in the unforgiving Pacific Ocean.
The jolly Fisherman outside of Ilwaco City Hall is an amusing character with his changing outfits and decorations, but his message to wear life jackets is serious. And it is one locals and visitors alike should heed.
Our beaches are among the most beautiful in the North American continent. We are proud to make this paradise our home, to protect and preserve it and enjoy its scenic attributes.
But danger lurks.
The Pacific County Sheriff’s Office has begun a campaign online to properly highlight the dangers of the ocean, focusing on tides, currents, undertow, sneaker waves and water temperatures.
We are happy to share their advice.
“Rip currents are the most hazardous beach condition a swimmer can face. Not only on beaches, but anywhere there are breaking waves. Several people drown in rip currents every year.
“The real danger with rip currents is not that you’re getting pulled away from shore, but how you react. Most swimmers will panic and try to swim against the current. They will tire quickly and soon go under.”
There’s another important safety consideration. If you are on the beach and observe someone in difficulty in the ocean, call 911 and remain in place so you can direct first responders and show what you saw — and where.
Anyone who has family members who insist on playing in the ocean must watch them the entire time. Better yet, be firm on young people and instruct them to do no more than dip their toes in the water, if they must. Wading out beyond calf level exposes anyone to those sneaker waves and undertows the Sheriff’s Office warns people about.
Both can be fatal, as can logs in the water and at the shoreline. Lifted by Mother Nature’s powerful wave action, they can break bones and render even the strongest people unconscious in the water and at its edge.
For locals, who should be more aware of the hazards, there is always the question of whether to intervene when you believe that another person’s behavior is putting them at risk. Far better to do so, than endure a lifetime of regret.
And then there are the number of vehicles being trapped by the prevalence of super-low tides. Of course, it is amusing to add snarky comments to photos posted online about visitors and even locals whose vehicles are swamped by incoming tides.
But it truly isn’t a laughing matter. Parking your vehicle on the flat sand and walking down the beach is a risk — because the tide comes in so quickly and can soon engulf a car or truck.
The vehicles have to be removed and are inevitably ruined beyond repair. Anyone trapped inside a vehicle likely would need to be rescued. And the action of the waves just a few feet out is enough to move a heavy vehicle, even one filled with saltwater. It creates a danger. It is costly to remove.
We realize the irony in saying welcome to visitors, “have a nice time,” but adding that they should be cognizant of the dangers here. But it is an unchanging truth.
Coastal law enforcement, fire and rescue responders know if we get through a summer without a drowning tragedy it will be very rare indeed — because too many people choose to ignore safety warnings and the kind of advice printed above.