Viewpoint: June 18, 2013

Many of us will head to the beautiful Gulf Coast beaches this summer to soak up the sun and surf. But, before doing so, make sure everyone in your party knows the ins and outs of beach safety.

Last week was a tragic reminder of how important it is to respect Mother Nature. Four people drowned in a period of 24 hours in the waters off Gulf Shores, AL. The waves didn't seem that big, but the rip currents were deadly.

In fact, more than 80 percent of water rescues at beaches are due to rip currents, fast moving channels of water that flow out to open water. Gulf Shores officials say educating visitors about rip currents is the most important step in preventing drowning.

That's why you need to know the warning signs: two red flags mean the water is closed to the public, one red flag means high surf and/or strong currents. Yellow is medium hazard and green is low hazard, meaning calm conditions but still exercise caution.

The beach is a great way to enjoy time with family and friends. Heed the warning signs, so that a fun family outing doesn't end in tragedy.