The water temperature on the beachfront dropped considerably in the pasts couple of weeks. This is a pretty dramatic shift, as only a degree or two makes a significant difference when you’re swimming.
Because the water is so shallow here on the upper Texas coast, the water temperature is constantly changing during the fall and spring. A few warm or cold days can have a big impact. And when fronts blow through and take the warm water sitting close to the surface out to sea, the deeper and cooler water wells up.
With recent water temps in the low 60’s, getting out on the water requires more foresight and preparation than during warmer months. A quick dip in the water when you’re a couple miles from shore can become a serious thing without proper gear. Kayakers, surfers, kite-boarders, stand-up paddlers, etc. should not only wear a wetsuit, but should have the right wetsuit for the activity and conditions. When at all appropriate, it’s a really good idea to not just bring a life jacket, but to wear it. That way, when the unexpected happens, you’re able to float and wait for help long after the cold water prevents swimming.
When the air is warm, but the water is cold, the conditions are ripe for sea fog. This fog can appear all at once or as a white bank that rolls in. Our Houston/Galveston National Weather Service office, one of the best in the country, is very tuned in to the aquatic environment and puts out all kinds of relevant marine warnings. That said, localized fog can happen without warning. Rescue workers from all agencies associated with the “Galveston Marine Response” coalition as well as the Coast Guard are kept busy when kayakers and boaters get lost in fog in the West Bay and San Luis Pass areas. Stranded people could be really close to shore but have no idea where they are.
Aside from proper attire and a Coast Guard approved lifejacket, there are a few other things you should do before getting on the water. First, be sure someone has very specific and accurate information about where you’re going and what times you’ll be out. Having participated in hundreds of searches for people, I can tell you the better starting point a rescuer has, the more likely they are to locate the missing person. Make sure your cell phone is charged and in a waterproof case. There are apps that can help you find your way around, but don’t rely on electronics! A compass on my watch has gotten me out of a jam more than once when I was training on my surf ski a couple miles from shore and a fog bank rolled in.
Most importantly, take a moment to think of all the things that could go wrong before getting out there, then plan accordingly. Remember that “Murphy’s Law” increases when wet!