New ocean safety group aims effort at Mendocino visitors, the first place to look for a dive instructor

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Posted by on April 08, 2005 at 07:44:58:

When Vincent Carleton took his kayak out onto Big River Beach on Sunday, tourists saw him bobbing in the surf and panicked.

I just wanted to get some exercise and they called out the Mendocino Fire Department, he said.

It is the second time that has happened, he said.

Carleton thought more ocean education could only help with such problems. He has rescued people who have braved Big River without adequate knowledge of the icy water and currents.

A new group has arisen on the Mendocino Coast to inform and educate people especially visitors of the perils presented by the Pacific.

The new Mendocino Coast Water Safety Coalition is working to educate people about the dangers of abalone diving, ocean kayaking and rogue waves. Monday, Vincent Carleton of Elk carries his surf kayak up Big River Beach. Frank Hartzell photo.

As swarms of abalone divers arrived in town for a storm drenched April Fools weekend opening, the Mendocino Coast Water Safety Coalitions public service announcements were heard on KOZT, 95.3 FM. The radio station offered air time plus technical help, said Morgan Zeitler, visitor services superintendent for State Parks Mendocino District.

Zeitler is a member of the new group, along with representatives of the Coast Guard, Red Cross, National Weather Service and Ocean Rider Foundation.

Carleton said ocean safety education of tourists in particular is needed but might not be enough.

You would need a sign at every entrance to the county and more and even then people might not pay attention.

Signs at the county entrance are one idea that was suggested at a meeting of the Caspar South Ocean Safety Group in January.

That meeting led to the formation last month of the new group, which will work to boost ocean safety in the entire area. The Caspar South group will continue to exist and work as a committee of the new group, Zeitler said.

One challenge the coalition faces is the divergent dangers posed to different users.

While Carleton braved Big River on Sunday to surf, he was worried when he saw a carload of Bay Area abalone divers headed for the water off Navarro Headlands.

That was some really scary water for abalone diving.

While ocean use in high surf is very dangerous for abalone diving it is what surfers wait for.

Thus, an idea suggested to close ocean usage at certain wave heights has not been endorsed by the fledgling Mendocino Coast Water Safety Coalition.

A lot goes into those type of decisions We are not in a mode to close our parks and even if we did, it would raise many problems that would need to be resolved, Zeitler said.

The 30-second radio PSA was read by Walt Dooley of Surf Rider, a non-profit foundation dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the worlds oceans mostly through surfing.

The ad was aimed at out-of-town abalone divers. People who make the long drive from Sacramento or the Bay Area are often determined to dive no matter what the conditions.

The bottom line is that the ocean will be there tomorrow and the abalone will be there tomorrow, said Zeitler, about the message of the PSA.

Weigh its condition and your condition before going in.

The fact that local abalone divers eschew heavy surf could be seen in Mondays contrast to the big crowds of abalone divers during a rainy and stormy Saturday and Sunday. While spectacular sunny skies combined with a minus tide on Monday afternoon, no abalone divers could be found braving the lingering big surf to interview for this news article.

There will also be some special educational efforts for ocean kayakers, Zeitler said.

Carleton said the policy of Catch a Canoe that their rented kayaks cant go out into the ocean, only up Big River, helps with the safety issue.

Big River Beach was full of boogie boarders, surfers and surf kayakers on Monday. Greg Plumb of Mendocino, who was surfing on Big River Beach, said more Ocean Safety Education is needed locally.

I think they should extend it into the schools more, he said.

Zeitler said the new organization would explore the many educational ideas that have been suggested as it continues.

He said State Parks has been working separately to improve the agencys local ocean safety efforts.

Six warning signs were installed by State Parks at key visitor access points, with funding help from Caspar South Ocean Safety Committee.

Park personnel are now being trained in how to deal with ocean incidents and how to help educate the public about the issue.

We are going up to people more often now and talking about the dangers. We arent assuming that they know how the ocean can be dangerous. We are initiating more discussion, Zeitler said.

State Parks held a joint training with the Mendocino Fire Department and also hopes to join a Fort Bragg Fire Department training in the future, Zeitler said.

State Parks has also been in touch with the local media more often lately. High surf warnings were broadcast on local radio and printed in the Advocate-News and The Mendocino Beacon.

All staff and volunteers at State Parks are now being trained in how to help park users be aware of ocean safety, with the first session on March 28, Zeitler said.

Erik Bookout of Concord remembered his bumpy and brief whale-watching trip in the rain and storm of Sunday.

I think it is great they are making an effort to improve ocean safety education, he said.

There is a lot that people dont realize. The waves you see on top are one threat, but people dont realize there is also a pull in the opposite direction that will pull you out to sea.

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