With summer beach season upon us, staying safe in the Gulf of Mexico waters

Personal responsibility is key to safety

ST. PETE BEACH, Fla. - A 13-year old girl visiting from Georgia was pulled from the Gulf of Mexico after nearly drowning Sunday afternoon on St. Pete Beach.

Her rescue is a timely reminder of how quickly tragedy can strike.

"Any type of body of water, you never want to let your guard down," said Pinellas County Aquatics Director Katherine Cleary.

Cleary oversees lifeguards at three Pinellas County parks, including the popular Fort De Soto beach.

"Can you let me know what the conditions are going on up there?" Cleary asks into a walkie-talkie.

"10-4, still flying red flag," responds a lifeguard from further up the Fort De Soto beach.

Keeping yourself and your family members safe at the beach doesn't fall squarely on the shoulders of lifeguards.

"Many times people will view lifeguards as temporary babysitters," Cleary said.

As the beach season kicks into high gear, beach-goers need to remember more than sunscreen and coolers.

"A lot of times people take for granted the conditions that are around them.  They're here to have a great time and so they're not looking out necessarily for personal safety," Cleary explained. 

Tropical Storm Debby and other weather events, officials say, have caused a significant shifting of sands below the water, leading to a greater risk of dangerous rip currents.

"People, in situations like this (pointing to a young man and woman in waist-high surf), because they're not used to the wave action, what'll happen is they can get hit by a wave, they get disoriented.  And when that takes place, a lot of times they can be picked up by a current and they can be taken out," said Cleary.

Most beaches along the Pinellas coast don't have lifeguards. 

Experts say to never swim alone and parents should always be in the water with younger children even if they know how to swim. 

The Fewer family of Canada is visiting St. Pete Beach and is prepared even if no lifeguards are present. They're aware of the trouble their four-year old daughter Clare could find herself in.

"You have to be very mindful of the dangers that lie beneath the surface and making sure that you keep your kids close by  and keep a close eye on them to prevent any tragedies," said Colin Fewer.

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