Area lifeguards are closely monitoring local waters and urging beachgoers to take safety precautions after strong rip currents led to a dramatic surge in ocean rescues this week.
Lifeguards reported making 408 rescues on Los Angeles County beaches Tuesday, including 103 in the section from Venice to Will Rogers.
The spike in activity was due to a combination of a strong southwest swell and a wave of warm weather that has led thousands of people to seek relief on the coast, county ocean lifeguard specialist A.J. Lester said.
“It’s pounding our coastline and churning the water up and creating rip currents,” he said. “Know there could be some rogue waves.”
Rip currents are powerful channels of water flowing away from shore and are common on many beaches. With changing speeds and patterns, they can be difficult to navigate even for strong swimmers and surfers.
The recent swell, which featured a strong lateral current, is expected to subside by Thursday, but could still impact local waters the rest of the week.
Rip currents will not lead officials to close local beaches, City of Santa Monica beach administrator Judith Meister said.
“But there’s been a lot of unusual activity and unusual weather,” she said. “People need to be advised.”
Tuesday’s conditions were particularly demanding on local lifeguards.
There were 34 ocean rescues on Santa Monica beaches, which county lifeguard spokesman Kenichi Haskett said is more than double the number of rescues on a typical summer day. He added that warm water temperatures have encouraged more people to enter the ocean.
There were 41 ocean rescues in Venice, including 18 in a single incident south of the pier that required two lifeguard boats to bring swimmers to calmer waters. Several other people in the water escaped the currents without assistance, Lester said.
“A rip current just swept off a big chunk of the beach-going population,” he said. “We can put someone in a safe area, but the swell might drift them over into rip currents.”
Lifeguards also reported making 235 rescues in the county’s southern section, which runs from Marina del Rey to Cabrillo, many of them in the Manhattan Beach area.
People caught in rip currents should not try to swim against the currents, officials said. Rather, they should escape the currents by swimming parallel to shore or tread water until the currents subside.
Lester said beachgoers should swim near open lifeguard stations, avoid rocks and jetties and remain calm if they get stuck.
“Once you’re out of the current, then you can slowly work your way in or float and wait for help,” Lester said. “People try to swim against it, but it’s like swimming against a raging river. With water moving around, even the best swimmers can’t swim through those rip currents.”
Santa Monica lifeguards performed 2,491 ocean rescues last year, a 69 percent increase over the 2013 tally. About 80 percent of the rescues typically involved swimmers stuck in rip currents, Haskett said.
Santa Monica accounted for more than 16 percent of the county’s record 15,851 total ocean rescues last year, a figure that smashed the previous mark of 14,096 that was set in 1997.