Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Avoid rip currents to stay safe on Pinellas beaches

CLEARWATER — Two drownings last week in northern Pinellas County served as grim reminders that some of the country's most picturesque beaches also can be deadly.

Largo resident Isam Rizkallah, 58, jumped from his boat June 10 near Honeymoon Island to rescue his dog. Three days later Gainesville, Ga., resident Ryan Terry drowned 30 yards off Clearwater Beach, near Idlewild Street. In both cases, officials cited strong currents as a factor in their deaths.

The full moon and subsequent new moon last week made high and low tides more exaggerated, said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer Baryl Martin. That creates bigger currents.

Clearwater Beach recreation supervisor J.P. Atherholt said beachgoers and boaters need to be aware of rip currents, or strong channels of water that flow seaward through a gap in a sandbar. Neither recent drowning occurred in a particularly dangerous spot, he said, but rough conditions can make even tame areas deadly.

"It's important to know that a rip current can happen at any time," Atherholt said. "It can be strong or it might just be a small current."

They are difficult to spot with an untrained eye, so it is best to ask lifeguards about conditions and check nearby signs before getting in the water.

Boaters should don life jackets before jumping off. But there is no need to go chasing after pets, said FWC spokesman Gary Morse. Dogs are strong swimmers and will usually come when the owner calls.

Should a swimmer be stuck in a rip current, it's important not to panic and waste energy. Swim parallel to the shore to escape from the current before turning in toward the sand.

"Even if you don't swim, just float and relax," while awaiting help, Atherholt said. "They're not going to take you all the way out to the Gulf of Mexico."

Reach Julie Kliegman at or (813) 226-3401. Follow @jmkliegman on Twitter.

Signs warn beach goers walking out to the dog beach area of Honeymoon Island about strong currents after a man drowned trying to rescue a 5-year-old girl.  [Jim Damaske | Times]

Signs warn beach goers walking out to the dog beach area of Honeymoon Island about strong currents after a man drowned trying to rescue a 5-year-old girl. [Jim Damaske | Times]

Avoid rip currents to stay safe on Pinellas beaches 06/16/14 [Last modified: Monday, June 16, 2014 11:27pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. After offseason of work hard, play hard, DeSean Jackson ready to produce for Bucs


    TAMPA — There's no telling what DeSean Jackson will do once he gets a football in his hands. Perhaps that's why a camera crew followed his every move Wednesday while the Bucs' new $30 million receiver stood on a step of the hot tub that empties into a spacious, azure pool at his new, sprawling five-bedroom home in …

    DeSean Jackson jokes around with girlfriend Kayla Phillips at their Tampa home as a crew from HBO’s Hard Knocks documents their day.
  2. Trump announces $10 billion Foxconn plant in Wisconsin


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Wednesday that electronics giant Foxconn will build a $10 billion factory in Wisconsin that's expected to initially create 3,000 jobs, the largest economic development project in state history.

    President Donald Trump embraces Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in the East Room of the White House during an announcement Wednesday that Foxconn is going to build a plant in Wisconsin.
  3. Playoff chase heats up for Rays with critical series at Yankees up first

    The Heater


    It was important that Evan Longoria crushed a two-run homer in the sixth inning Wednesday and Steven Souza Jr. blasted a solo shot off the farthest catwalk an inning later.

    Adeiny Hechavarria (11) and Tim Beckham (1) celebrate the double play to end the top of the sixth inning. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
  4. Conservatives come to Sessions' defense amid Trump attacks


    WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans and influential conservatives rallied around Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday as President Donald Trump kept up his public pelting of the nation's top law enforcement officer and left his future in doubt.

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions
  5. Jones: Alex Cobb proves again why he's Rays' stopper, no matter how long he's here (w/ video)

    The Heater


    If a team hopes to hang around the pennant race, it better have an ace. A stopper. A pitcher it can count on every fifth day to stop the bleeding, keep a winning streak going or flat-out win a game that a team flat-out needs to win.

    Rays starting pitcher Alex Cobb (53) throwing the first inning. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]