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Anna Maria beach accesses have warnings, no security

By Rick Catlin, Islander Reporter

A sign at Gulffront Park in Anna Maria advises beachgoers to swim at their own risk and beware of rip tides. Similar signs are posted at 37 beach accesses in the city. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

In the wake of the July 6 death in Anna Maria of a 14-year-old boy caught in a rip current while on vacation from Winter Haven, some island officials have called for lifeguards to be posted at key points on the city’s Gulf of Mexico shoreline.

Mayor SueLynn said funding a lifeguard program would be up to the city commission. Warning signs about strong currents and the risk of swimming are posted at each of the city’s 37 beach access locations, but are not the same as lifeguards.

“It’s a terrible tragedy, and I’m so sorry for the family,” the mayor said.

She recalled a previous incident in 2010, which resulted in death that occurred near Sycamore Avenue a few blocks north of the Sandbar Restaurant.

In the July 6 tragedy, authorities said the 14-year-old was caught in a strong current in knee-deep water off Willow Avenue and was unable to get back to shore. His 12-year-old brother was with him and alerted the family and rescue officials.

The mayor said many people may not read the posted warning signs and that accidents probably will continue.

There must have been 70 people, probably more, at Willow Avenue when this tragedy took place, the mayor added.

SueLynn said she had public works supervisor George McKay go out last week to make sure signs were posted at all city beach access locations.

A random survey of about 15 people at Gulffront Park on Gulf Boulevard south of the Sandbar Restaurant July 9 found no one who had read the warning signs posted in three locations at the park.

The mayor said the answer to avoid a further tragedy might be hiring lifeguards. That, however, is up to the city commission.

The mayor said she could not guess how many lifeguards Anna Maria would need to cover its beaches, which extend from Beach Avenue northward and around Bean Point to just north of the Rod & Reel Pier, a distance of about 1.4 miles. Additionally, the city pier now has a sandy shore that is attracting beachgoers.

Commissioner Gene Aubry suggested the three island cities might form a lifeguard department for those beaches not covered by county lifeguards.

Manatee County has lifeguards at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach and the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach. Lifeguard salaries with Manatee County Marine Rescue start at around $31,000 per year plus benefits.

Capt. Joe Westerman, head of the county marine rescue unit, said there are 10 full-time and one part-time lifeguards that staff county beaches on the island.

On average, he said, there are 75 rip current interventions annually and 14,000 preventive actions by lifeguards at Manatee County beaches. A preventive action was defined as “any time staff interacts with the public to alter situations that may be hazardous,” according to information from the marine rescue unit.

3 Responses to Anna Maria beach accesses have warnings, no security

  1. Mark G. says:

    Hello, once again upon arrival to AMI for a vacation we were made aware of yet another

    victim to Anna Maria Island’s Rip Currents – this time by a helicopter circling over our

    rented residence on July 6, 2013 – In our opinion, this type of tragedy is occurring much too often here.

    People need to be made aware of how dangerous these currents are – yes, I see the signs

    explaining how to navigate your way out of a rip current, but even the strongest Olympic class

    swimmer would have a challenge with that method. So what is the solution? This is

    what must be explored, and quickly.

    I’ll start with some ideas to get the dialogue running but it must be kept going until a real solution is found.

    1/ Rip Current Warning Billboards (very large – coming on and off the Island)
    2/ Patrol Boats (volunteer or otherwise – 2 hour shifts?) placed strategically every thousand meters apart and 100 meters out

    (approx.) from Bradenton Beach area to Bean Point.
    3/ Distress Flags (Rip Flags) on all beaches placed every 50 yards (approx.) – these can

    be made similar to the labeled cones and flags tucked into a thin tube that you see in big box

    stores – they can be used by someone on land to garner attention (from land and boats) when a swimmer is in

    distress -also, they can be made pretty enough to be on the beach – no larger in diameter

    than a beach umbrella pole – but when pulled out are large and red in color – Fines

    and/or jail time for misuse of course.
    4/ Emergency Phone or Signal Stands – not everyone brings a cell phone to the beach.
    5/ Mandatory Floatation Devices for all children 14 and under (or older- take a poll maybe?)
    6/ Radio Station / Free Mobile Phone App for public awareness (tide/current locations and survival techniques) – Free App log-in / download signs posted at all beach entrances/ shops / restaurants etc.)
    7/As we walked the beach each morning we saw many a volunteer working on behalf of the turtles and their nesting sites, a very noble cause indeed. Can AMI not do the same for our fellow beach goers and start some sort of volunteer program in this regard? Maybe have “Beach Walkers” informing parents/guardians of young children and the elderly that the possibility of very strong currents do exist and are extremely dangerous.

    I know some of these ideas/suggestions are unobtainable (costs etc.) but at least we will get people talking here – someone somewhere has the ultimate solution, together lets find it – and FAST.

    Mark G.

  2. Jim L. says:

    So parents no longer have any responsibility whatsoever for their kids do? The rest of us have to pay millions in additional taxes because today’s parents don’t care enough to tell their kids not to go in the water on riptide days, and make they don’t. Here’s an easy permanent fix: Fill in the Gulf of Mexico. Make a few swimming pools and hire lifeguards to babysit so the parents can do whatever is so important in their lives besides making sure the kids are safe. Some of the swimming pools could be filled with salt water and stocked with fish so we don’t lose the tourists. Think about it – no more Gulf for hurricanes to intensify in. No more sinking boats. If a kids drowns, the parents can sue the lifeguard. The perfect plan.

    • Amanda says:

      If there had been a life guard would he/she have saved that 14 year old boy?…..chances are YES. Sadly someone died as a result of no life guard. The public are not qualified to judge when it’s safe or not safe to swim in the sea but life guards are hence they are trained people working on beaches all over the world. This does not take away the responsibility of parents but chances are the parents could not have gone in and saved the 14 year old boy but a life guard could have and isn’t that a tragedy. Perhaps the money tourists bring in could be put towards saving people’s lives? Beautiful beaches in AMI but I was surprised there were no life guards or flags and on discussion re this with my family the following day that poor boy drowned. I shall not be returning to AMI.

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