Drownings spur warning signs on Peninsula coast 

The recent tragedies off the San Mateo County coast are causing some coastal city officials to take action by adding warning signs, while state park rangers and lifeguards continue to caution beachgoers that the ocean is dangerous and unpredictable.

Michael Grant, the supervising state park ranger, said large, strong waves and the potential for drowning is something the coastal patrols worry about all year long.

“In the winter, we worry because the waves are larger,” he said. “But in the summer, we have more people coming to them. So it’s something we do worry about.”

San Mateo County has 50 miles of coastline. Its steep, rocky cliffs and undeveloped land is often a destination for tourists looking to see the Pacific Ocean.

Grant did not know the number of calls state beach lifeguards respond to in a given year, but noted every day is different.

“It can be three or four in a day or, in some cases, hours,” he said. “Or we can go days without a call.”

Grant said the rip currents are the most dangerous element of the ocean that swimmers and beachgoers need to remember.

The rip current was the reason the San Mateo County coast’s most recent victim was unable to get back to shore. Grelia Smith, 44, of San Carlos had reportedly gone out to save her dog Sunday afternoon at Sharp Park Beach in Pacifica, but she was pulled out to sea by the strong currents. She was found floating 35 feet offshore.

Ten days earlier, 44-year-old Richard Serreno Jr. went missing off the same beach. Serreno had been swimming with friends when they said he was pulled out to sea by strong waves. The friends returned to land safely, but Serreno did not. His body washed up on shore Tuesday and was formally identified by the Coroner’s Office on Thursday.

As a result of these incidents, Pacifica officials say they are taking action to help curb potential dangers by installing new warning signs about the rip current at each of Pacifica’s three beaches.

Last week’s incident was the third reported drowning this year.

In 2009 three people drowned off the coast, down from four in 2005, the county Coroner’s Office said.

Though the two most recent drownings occurred in the same area, Grant said all beaches are dangerous.

“It can happen anytime,” he said. “When you’re not watching and your back is to it, or you can get caught up in the currents. It’s really important to pay attention.”

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

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