CLEARWATER - On Clearwater Beach, you will find five lifeguard towers and eight lifeguards, three of which roam, keeping an eye on swimmers.
Lifeguards are something you won't find on St. Pete Beach or the beaches of Pass-A-Grille -- two areas that have seen drowning victims over the past seven days.
The heavy lifeguard presence is why Sean Erwin from Richmond, Virginia, decided to vacation along with his wife and two kids on Clearwater Beach.
"It makes me feel a whole lot safer that there are more eyes on the kids," said Sean Erwin while holding is daughter Chloe in his arms.
Last Wednesday, a rip current took down a family of five in Pass-A-Grille. One of the women rescued by a teenager on the beach, who happened to be a trained lifeguard, later died.
Yesterday, Ricardo Galloway, 7, drowned off of St. Pete Beach.
"It [beach patrol] is what swayed us to come here," Erwin added.
For the coming fiscal year, City of Clearwater records show $500,470 has been allotted for beach patrol. That number is up by almost $50,000 from the last fiscal year. This amount also does not include the $138,000 it cost the city to build the lifeguard towers. That means each tower cost $23,000.
St. Pete Beach, which plays host to tourists, is not in a financial position to staff lifeguards. In April, budget workshops showed the city needed more than $1 million to balance the budget.
Clearwater lifeguards told ABC Action News that their presence is paying off. Beach Patrol Data shows that in fiscal year 2011, lifeguards had contact with beach patron 37,005 times. Contact included providing information about the beach, the flag warning system lifeguards use to warn patrons of water conditions and saving struggling swimmers.
Of those 37,005 interactions, the bulk (19,302) were for public assistance like answering questions and providing information about the area. Lifeguards also dealt with 253 missing children and helped 60 swimmers who were in trouble in the water.
Data shows lifeguards encountered zero drowning cases. The bulk of these interactions occurred between the months of March and August.
Beach-goers must keep in mind lifeguards are only on duty 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Take a dip in the water after hours and you are swimming at your own risk.
"Everybody out here, each and every person's life is in our hands and we take that very seriously," said Patrick Brafford, chief lifeguard at Clearwater Beach. "We can't let our guard down."
Brafford told ABC Action News that communities that cannot afford beach patrol can still prevent drowning and other water related emergencies through education.
"It is all about water safety," he added.
Brafford recommended communities hold classes, hand out pamphlets or even provide tips to locals and tourists alike.
Safety tips include:
- Swimming near a lifeguard
- Never swimming alone
- Swimming sober
- Knowing which warning flags are flying and what they mean
RIP CURRENT EDUCATION
Brafford also urges local and tourists to learn about rip currents especially in the wake of Tropical Storm Debby. According to the Nation Weather Service, rip currents account for 80 percent of rescues performed by surf beach lifeguards.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's ( NOAA) National Weather Service offers the following educational information:
What are rip currents?
- Rip currents are channelized currents of water flowing away from shore at surf beaches.
- Rip currents typically form at breaks in sandbars, and also near structures such as jetties and piers.
- Rip currents are quite common and can be found on many surf beaches every day, including Great Lakes beaches.
Why are rip currents dangerous?
- Rip currents pull people away from shore.
- Rip current speeds can vary from moment to moment and can quickly increase to become dangerous to anyone entering the surf.
- Rip currents can even sweep the strongest swimmer out to sea.
What are some clues that a rip current may be present?
- A channel of churning, choppy water.
- A difference in water color.
- A line of foam, seaweed or debris moving seaward.
- A break in the incoming wave pattern.
What if I'm caught in a rip current?
- Stay calm.
- Don't fight the current.
- Escape the current by swimming in a direction following the shoreline. When free of the current, swim at an angle--away from the current--toward shore.
- If you are unable to escape by swimming, float or tread water. When the current weakens, swim at an angle away from the current toward shore.
- If at any time you feel you will be unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself: face the shore, call or wave for help.
How do I help someone else?
- Get help from a lifeguard.
- If a lifeguard is not present, yell instructions on how to escape.
- If possible, throw the rip current victim something that floats.
- Call 9-1-1 for further assistance.
- Don't become a victim while trying to help someone else. Many people have died in efforts to rescue