The annual South Atlantic Lifeguard Championships competition on July 11-12 is intended to be a day of fun for beach-goers, but it’s a snapshot into the day-to-day lives of the women and men who are dedicated to keeping our beaches safe.
Case in point: On June 28, the Hatteras Island Rescue Squad — along with Dare County Emergency Medical Services, Dare County Sheriff’s Office, and National Park Service Rangers — responded to a 911 call about multiple swimmers in distress off the coast of Avon on Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
The squad dispatched two jet skis and began the process of bringing at least six swimmers — none of who had been using a flotation device — back to the beach.
A 48-year-old man visiting from New York received CPR on the beach, but efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.
The death is the fourth swimming-related fatality off the Seashore this year.
The day of the incident, there was a moderate risk of rip currents near the Avon area, a condition under which only experienced surf swimmers who know how to escape rip currents should enter the water.
The tragedy not only illustrates the value of trained lifeguards, but it also underscores the importance of heeding warning flags posted on the beaches in an effort to protect swimmers: Red flags mean absolutely no swimming. Yellow flags mean that conditions are hazardous, and beach-goers should take extra precautions when swimming.
Unfortunately, some people disregard warning flags — and, in doing so, those people are risking their lives.
What is a rip current?
Rip currents are powerful, narrow channels of fast-moving water that can form at any beach with breaking waves and pull a swimmer away from shore at a rate of up to eight miles an hour — and they are responsible for approximately 80 percent of lifeguard rescues in the ocean.
A rip current forms when water brought in by waves rushes back out to sea in a river-like fashion through a channel that runs along a deep spot on the ocean floor.
They can often form on calm, sunny days and are not always easy to spot. Great weather at the beach can be deceiving: It doesn’t always mean it’s safe to swim — or even play — in the shallows.
According to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), indicators of rip currents include:
• A channel of churning, choppy water
• Notable differences in water color
• Lines of foam, seaweed or debris moving steadily seaward
• A break in the incoming wave pattern
The safest option for inexperienced ocean swimmers is to swim at a beach with lifeguards. Statistics from the United States Lifesaving Association report that most drowning deaths blamed on rip currents occur at unguarded beaches.
If you see someone who is in trouble, call 911, and then try to throw the person a flotation device.
If caught in a rip tide, NOAA advises the swimmer do the following: • Remain calm
• Don’t fight it
• Don’t try to swim against the current
• Try to swim parallel to the shoreline to get out of the current
• When out of the current, swim at an angle away from the current, towards the shore
• If unable to swim out of the current, float or calmly tread water, and raise your hand above the water until help arrives