The danger of coastal currents on Mazatlan beaches

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Every year on tourist beaches in the country, dozens of people drown when they are swept away by coastal currents; unfortunately the beaches of Mazatlán are no exception. According to local journalistic sources, during the year 2022, at least 283 bathers were rescued at sea by elements of the lifeguard body and 10 people lost their lives.

The waves, in addition to its danger due to the turbulence it generates when breaking, causes currents that move along the beach or even perpendicular to it. These coastal current systems occur when the waves approach the beach at an oblique angle, generating a flow parallel to the coastline. Shore currents can also be caused by variations in the height of the breaking waves, causing the water level in the portion of the beach where the highest waves break to be higher than that of the portion of the beach where they break the lowest waves, so the water flows into this area. As the water flows parallel to the beach, it will eventually return to the ocean. This current, called “return current” or popularly “rip current”, can be dangerous since it flows directly towards the sea with a high speed, of the order of two knots, considerably faster than what a man can swim. Fortunately rip currents are limited to relatively narrow channels (usually less than 25m) and the experienced swimmer can get out of them simply by swimming a short distance parallel to the shoreline. These currents break up a short distance offshore.

In an article published almost 100 years ago in the prestigious journal Science (62, 1925), Engineer M.P. Hite describes them almost poetically:

“A rip current is a kind of river, a torrent that is easily perceived and moves with the speed of a thoroughbred horse. The current is so fast and powerful that a motorized boat cannot keep up with it. It can carry blocks, rocks and even pieces of metal into the sea. In his impetuous control, the mightiest swimmer will have to find himself helpless as a baby.”

Practically in all sections of Mazatlán beach these types of currents are formed, especially on open beaches such as: Marina Mazatlán-Cerritos–Punta Gruesa, areas where the construction of condominium towers and neighboring subdivisions have proliferated, which will undoubtedly cause more people to come to those dangerous beaches.

The bather must be careful in more crowded central beaches such as: Isla de la Piedra and Olas Altas. In the northern section of the Malecón beaches, from Acuario to Valentino (Punta Camarón), the beaches are risky for bathers, since the incident waves normally come in free and concentrated and generate strong coastal currents that can be dangerous.

The beaches of the so-called “Golden Zone” between Punta Camarón and Punta Sábalo, were considered some years ago as the best beaches in the Port, but the illegal and abusive constructions on the beach have made them narrower, more irregular and dangerous.

When you are going to get into the sea, get used to checking the preventive flags placed by the lifeguards. Red flags indicate dangerous conditions and suggest (and mandate) not to enter the sea.

Source: Noreste