, Newburyport, MA


July 15, 2014

Beach flag warning a worthy idea

There’s no way of ever knowing whether the presence of a color-coded beach flag system on Rockport’s Long Beach a little over two years ago would have sufficiently raised beachgoers’ awareness and perhaps saved toddler Caleigh Harrison, who disappeared that April and is believed to have been swept away amid dangerous riptides.

But a measure that has now gained state Senate approval, one that would install such a system and mandate the flags’ use at the 26 beaches maintained by the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation, represents an important step in the name of beach safety.

And while the bill would apply only to the DCR’s beaches, cities and towns across the commonwealth would do well to adopt similar practices, from any and all coastal beaches to perhaps even communities inland lakes and other bodies of water that can pose hazards of their own.

The bill — appropriately called Caleigh’s Bill, and based on a proposal funneled through state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, from Caleigh’s uncle, David Harrison, who observed a similar system operating on the resort beaches of Panama during a trip there in January 2013 — hardly stands as a reinventing of the wheel.

Indeed, some communities already have flag-based warning systems already in place, including Rockport, which posts warning flags at its beach lifeguard stations from July 1 through Labor Day. Caleigh Harrison was lost off Long Beach on April 19, 2012.

But as that tragic incident shows, beach safety hazards are not limited to specific time frames. And the beach dangers posed by riptides are not merely defined by what appear to be stormy beach days. One of the factors that makes the need for a warning system so critical is the fact that the worst riptides and most hazardous swimming conditions is the fact that the conditions can be so deceptive.

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