As the winter season draws nearer, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) is sounding a warning to beachgoers and urging them to exercise caution. High tides, storms, and wind at this time of year can increase the potential for accident or injury on the coast.
"You should always keep an eye on the ocean," said OPRD beach safety education coordinator Robert Smith. "Even the most experienced beachcomber can be caught unaware unless they remain attentive."
Despite the increased risks, Smith emphasized that people should not defer trips to the coast over the holidays. "This is a great time to enjoy the beauty of the Oregon shore--ask any storm watcher. People simply need to respect the ocean, seek out safe vantage points, and heed the warnings from park staff or signs."
Sneaker waves--surges of water and sand that appear without warning--are magnified by winter storms, so beach visitors should keep a careful watch. They should also be on the lookout for rip currents that can sweep people off their feet and out to sea. If caught in a rip current, ocean-goers should swim parallel to the beach to escape the undertow and then head back to shore.
"Walking on jetties is unsafe even during good weather. They become even more dangerous with the high winds and powerful surf at this time of year," said Smith. "And beaches become narrower when sand is washed or blown away, leaving little room to escape at some points."
Erosion from wind and rain can also create precarious conditions on cliffs overlooking the water. "The ocean has a long reach. Wandering off trails is a bad idea," Smith said. He added that large logs should also be avoided. "Some logs that appear safe may actually be unsteady after getting moved by waves. It's important to stay clear of them in case they roll."
Sightseers and tide pool observers are advised to consult tides tables, available free at state parks and online at www.oregonstateparks.org/images/pdf/tidetable.pdf. Every year, people are rescued after becoming stranded on rocks or headlands at high tide. Vacationers can stay up to date on park closures due to flooding or erosion by dialing the state parks information line at 1-800-551-6949.
This winter season may pose some unique hazards on the Oregon shore. "We expect the amount of marine debris washing ashore this year to be greater than in the past, particularly in the wake of the tsunami that hit Japan last spring," said Smith. OPRD is asking beach visitors to help preserve the coastline by collecting or moving debris and, in some cases, reporting it to authorities. Here are the recommended responses for specific types of debris:
// Litter or small trash. //
Examples: Plastic bottles, aluminum cans, buoys, Styrofoam.
If practical, OPRD encourages beach-goers to remove small debris and recycle as much of it as possible. Free beach cleanup bags can be obtained from any coastal state park office. These should be tied shut and returned to one of 15 designated drop-off sites: a digital map with locations and hours is available atwww.oregon.gov/OPRD/PARKS/tsunami_debris.shtml.
If the debris cannot be removed by hand, an attempt should be made to move it far enough away from the water so that it doesn't wash back out at high tide.
// Derelict vessels or other large items. //
Examples: Adrift fishing boats or other vessels, shipping containers.
Call 911 in an emergency. If the debris is a hazard to navigation, call 211 (1-800-SAFENET) and you will be connected with the US Coast Guard. Do not attempt to move or remove vessels.
// Personal possessions. //
Examples: Items with unique identifiers, names, or markings.
// Potentially hazardous materials. //
Examples: Oil or chemical drums, gas cans, propane tanks.
Beach-goers should call 211 (1-800-SAFENET) to be connected to the U.S. Coast Guard and provide as much information as possible about the location of the item and its contents. They should not touch it or attempt to move it.
For more information about the dangers of sneaker waves, rolling logs, and rip currents, as well as additional beach safety tips, visit www.oregonbeachsafety.org.