Surfers, Fishermen, and Walkers Should Stay Alert on Beaches in Golden Gate National Recreation Area This Holiday Weekend

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Date: February 12, 2015
Contact: Alexandra Picavet, 415-786-8021

Though it may not not feel like it, it is still winter in the Bay Area. Winter weather patterns affect our surf conditions along the California coast. The National Park Service wants to be sure people who are planning to visit the beaches over the President's Day Holiday take appropriate precautions.

The National Weather Service has issued a "coastal hazard statement" for Northern California beaches this weekend. People visiting Golden Gate National Recreation Area, especially Ocean Beach, Fort Funston and Rodeo Beach, need to be extremely cautious. It is estimated that there can be waves as high as 8-10 feet, with "sneaker waves" and strong rip currents. Sneaker waves can catch beach goers and fishermen by surprise.

Winter is a particularly dangerous time to be on the beaches of Northern California. Tragically, every year, people and their pets are effected by sneaker waves. A sneaker wave is a large wave in a series of coastal waves, and coupled with the cold water and strong rip currents, sneaker waves can be deadly. They frequently catch beach goers, dog walkers, and dogs off guard and wash them out to sea. This is the time of year when these waves frequently occur.  

  • Anyone planning to take a walk on the beach or go fishing should expect higher-than-normal surf, as a seasonal swell is forecast to hit Bay Area coastlines this weekend. Steeper beaches, particularly northwest facing beaches, will see large breaking waves.
  • Fishermen should avoid fishing from rocks and jetties.
  • Do not turn your back on the water. Keep children and dogs a safe distance from the water.
  • People have lost their lives trying to rescue their dog from a sneaker wave on norther California beaches. 
  • Remember, if you are walking with your dogs on the beach, dogs are built much better for swimming than humans. The best suggestion is to keep your dogs away from the surf during these high surf events. If your dogs do get swept by a sneaker wave it is best for you to keep your eye on them and call their names so they know which direction to swim. Do not go in after them.
  • Strong winds developing over the Pacific Ocean off of Northern California are causing the swell.
  • The hazard statement — which is less serious than a high-surf warning or advisory — was issued to make the public aware of unusual and potentially dangerous conditions.
  • Check the tides before you go to the beach. Higher tides means high risk. A rising tide can cause the waves to wash farther and farther up the beach, making it even easier to be carried out to sea by a sneaker wave.

Rip currents are powerful, channeled currents of water lowing away from shore. They typically extend from the shoreline, through the surf zone, and past the line of breaking waves. Rip currents can occur at any beach with breaking waves.
  • If you are caught in a rip current, the most important thing you can do is stay calm. Do not panic.
  • Do not fight the current. It will exhaust you, swim parallel to the shore. If you can’t swim, float or tread water until help arrives.

If you see someone in distress the water, call 911 immediately. Most untrained rescuers don’t survive. Instead keep an eye on that person so you can tell train rescue crews where the person in distress is.   

Last updated: February 28, 2015

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