Water Safety

Beaches in Costa Rica are no more dangerous than those in southern California, according to Donald Melton of Quepos, who has pushed lifesaving efforts in coastal areas for many years.

Basic rules apply whenever you swim in coastal waters: Do not swim alone, on a full stomach, or while intoxicated. Do not swim at the mouth of a river, where currents can be treacherous. For the same reason, be careful around rocky points. Look before you leap. How deep is the water-are people standing? Is the slope gradual or is there a steep drop-off? Ask local people how safe the water is.

According to Donald, about 80 percent of the 200 people who drown each year in Costa Rica are victims of riptides. Some rips are called "permanent "-always in the same place. In other areas, rips can come and go. Telltale signs are discoloration of the water-brown spots where turbulence is kicking up sand-and areas where breakers don't return directly to the surf but run parallel to the beach. Take a few minutes to watch the action of the sea before you go in.

If caught in a rip, remember that it will only take you out, not drag you under. Panic is a factor in drowning. Don't fight the current. See if you can use the energy of a big wave to push you toward the beach. Motion to shore for help, but while it is coming, swim parallel to the beach, then, as the rip weakens, swim at a 45-degree angle toward shore. Never try to swim directly toward the beach. If you can't swim, float; keep your legs and body close to the surface. If water is shallow enough that you can walk when you feel yourself being pulled out, also go parallel to the shore as fast as you can to try to get out of it.

Some dangerous beaches are Playa Bonito near Limon near the entrance to Cahuita National Park; Doha Ana and Playa Barranca near Puntarenas; jaco; and south Espadilla Beach at Manuel Antonio.

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