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Ocean Beach Drowning Renews Debate Over Need For Lifeguards

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- San Francisco's Ocean Beach is one of the most treacherous stretches along the California coast. The riptides are brutal and many swimmers and surfers get into trouble there.

But no one is monitoring Ocean Beach and after a surfer died there last weekend, some people are wondering whether it is finally time for lifeguards.

You won't find lifeguard posts along the beach's 3-mile stretch. Instead, you'll see signs, letting people know you can't safely swim there due to the rip currents.

Ocean Beach visitor Darryn Manuel said he thinks it would be safer with a lifeguard there.

Nathan Sargent, a spokesman for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area said, "We consider Ocean Beach a knee-deep beach so come, stroll, wade in the water. But the rip currents make it just too treacherous for especially inexperienced swimmers."

But San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar told KPIX 5 months ago that signs aren't enough.

Mar said, "It might look safe and calm but these currents can pull you out in a matter of a couple seconds."

Tuesday, Supervisor Mar's office told KPIX 5 that the city and the National Park Service is looking at putting up clearer signs and new ways to educate beach goers on risks of swimming at Ocean Beach.

But the Golden Gate National Recreation Association maintains that adding lifeguards is not the answer.

Sargent said, "The presence and appearance of a lifeguard might just give the implication and the notion that this is a swimming beach."

But when the fog burns off and the sun comes out, Ocean Beach gets packed by the hundreds.

Ocean Beach visitor Manuel said, "If there are going to be people out here, it's better to be safe than sorry."

Just two days ago, a 29-year-old surfer was pulled from the water and later died at the hospital. In April another tragedy: two Vallejo teens died after they were swept away by a rip current.

So, if people are going to come to the beach regardless, why not put lifeguards on staff?

Sargent said, "Well, our Beach Patrol are lifeguards, they are talented, they are brave. They do these rescues. We just refer to them as beach patrol rangers."

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