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Ocean Safety

OCEAN SAFETY

Not all beaches along the California coastline are recommended for swimming or wading.  The very things that make these areas such spectacular places to look at and enjoy can be lethal to those caught unaware along the shoreline.

Large surf, cold water temperatures, backwash, sudden drop-offs, pounding shorebreak, and dangerous rip currents can turn what seem like safe activities such as playing near the surf line, wading, or climbing on rock outcroppings, deadly.

There is limited lifeguard service along some portions of the coast.  Check with on-duty park staff about the ocean conditions.  Please be aware that conditions may change quickly along the coastline.  When in doubt—don’t go out!

Rip Currents
These are powerful, channeled currents of water flowing 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 or where a there is a stream or outflow into the surfline.  The majority of ocean rescues made by lifeguards are due to victims struggling in rip currents.

“Rogue Wave” or “Sleeper Wave”
These are common names given to a wave that is larger than the average wave height that has been observed.  These can be unpredictable waves, which may occur even on days when most of the surf looks small and unspectacular.  These large waves have been the cause of too many drownings over the years and can catch those close to the shoreline by surprise, washing them into the cold, turbulent water.  Most victims were climbing on rocks and cliffs, playing near or in the surf, or shore fishing.

In an emergency -- call 9-1-1 

  • If you see someone in trouble, get help from a lifeguard. If a lifeguard is not available, have someone call 9-1-1
  • Try to remain calm.  Have someone spot the person in trouble or keep your eyes on the person.  Give a clear explanation of your location and stay on the line with the dispatcher until you are told otherwise
  • Throw the rip current victim something that floats and yell instructions on how to escape by having the victim swim out of the rip current, in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, direct them to swim towards shore.
  • Only professionally trained rescuers should attempt in-water rescues.

How to Avoid and Survive Rip Currents

Rip current image courtesy of the United State Lifesaving Associaiton and the National Oceanic & Atmosphere Administration

Learn how to swim!


  • Never swim alone.
  • Be cautious at all times, especially when swimming at unguarded beaches. If in doubt, don’t go out!
  • Whenever possible, swim at a lifeguard protected beach.
  • Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards.
  • If caught in a rip current, remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
  • Don’t fight the current. Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim towards shore.
  • If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water. When out of the current, swim towards shore.
  • If you are still unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself:  face the shore, wave your arms, and yell for help.
  • If you see someone in trouble, get help from a lifeguard. If a lifeguard is not available, have someone call 9-1-1 . Throw the rip current victim something that floats and yell instructions on how to escape.

Remember, many people drown while trying to save someone else from a rip current.