(This is a previously published blog, but worth repeating since we've already had one eighteen-year-old drown this year.)
Yep—we gottem,’ but they aren’t human killers. Our serial killers are called rip currents. There’s an unfortunate photo (left) showing the anatomy of a rip current that all the safety organizations circulate, which assumes everyone has the ability to levitate fifteen feet above the ocean and look down upon them. It’s like trying to identify a human serial killer in a lineup based on the killer’s x-ray—not helpful.
Here’s what they look like from the beach:
The water of a rip current flows away from the beach, and yes, there are often multiple rip currents on any given day. During these times, your best bet is to keep the kids playing on the beach and only allow them to wade. The phrase “Graveyard of the Atlantic” doesn’t just apply to boats or ships, it also applies to swimmers. I’ve listed some general rules below that may save someone’s life, including your own.
1. When you swim by yourself without company, go only to waist-high water.
2. Swim only where you have a foothold, not just a touch. When (not if) a wave knocks you down, you’ll be in a depth where you won’t get swept beyond your ability to get back to shore.
3. When you are in a group, whether or not rip currents are present, designate an adult on the beach as a watcher. This role can be switched out during the day, sharing the responsibility, which is arduous. The watcher’s job is to keep in sight all the group’s members who are in the water.
a. Tell kids the story of “Peter and the Wolf,” which is good for them to know not only at the beach, but also at home. Screaming should be reserved for emergencies.
b. Have binoculars and a cellphone by your side.
c. Work out hand signals swimmers can use to indicate to the watcher to call 911. If there are rips nearby, get the group’s attention and wave them away from the rips. Groups tend to wander or an undertow can push swimmers into a rip.
d. Always keep vigilant watching swimmers—use the binoculars for those swimming near the breakers.
e. When someone indicates he is in trouble, never lose sight of the swimmer and call 911. When waves are high, it’s easy to lose sight of the swimmer. The rescue squad climbs on the roofs of their vehicles, spotting victims with binoculars. You should do the same. If they can’t find the victim when they arrive, they can’t save the victim.
4. If you are swimming and get caught in a rip current, you may be one foot away from safety. Using hand signals, ask the watcher if you are near its edge and which way to swim to get out of it. One or two strokes in the correct direction may be all you need. If you are in its center, swim diagonally either way. If you tire or start to panic—Stop. Don’t do anything. The rip will take you out, but your watcher knows where you are so flip on your back to float, singing whatever is your fancy, working out plots, thinking of your favorite team, or all the celebrating you’ll do once you are saved. If you let the adrenaline to kick in—you’ll be spent too soon. It usually takes at least fifteen minutes for the squad to arrive on the scene so do whatever it takes to remain calm.
5. Have flotation devices with you.
What’s a flotation device?
When trying to rescue someone always use a floatation device. The rescue squad will tell you only to use a surfboard to rescue swimmers. But a paddleboard or a boogie board is better than nothing, but other than those devices—don’t try it. Unless you are a very good swimmer with lifesaving training—don’t try it. The rescue squad members are experienced and possess the proper equipment to save victims. Below, on the left, are real boogie boards. The board on the right should be outlawed on the Outer Banks. They give false security and are not flotation devices. People give them to their children to use. Yep, they are cheap, but they also will enable your child to float into deeper water without safety.
The skimmer boards below are also NOT flotation devices.
These boards are called skimmer boards because they enable the user to hydroplane on the beach after waves have broken the shoreline. They are to be used on the beach only.
The islands of the Outer Banks are great places to vacation, but visitors must be aware of the dangers here. Be cautious and vigilant for your family’s safety. In any given summer, seven or eight visitors drown.
Other Beach Issues:
Fill In Your Child’s Holes
Our first visitor drowned last month. I was there, off Ramp 49. Normally, I watch where I walk. Unfortunately, while scanning the breakers for the victim, I fell into a two-foot deep hole, presumably some child dug, whose parents did not fill in before they left the beach. I severely sprained my ankle. After three weeks, the swelling is still present. Try working on a sprained ankle—I don’t recommend it.
Don’t Stop/Park On the Top of Ramps
I’ve encountered vehicles stopped at the top of ramps going both on and off the beach. The drivers didn’t getting out of their vehicles. They were just stopped for no apparent reason. Admiring the scenery? Checking their tide app? What the drivers failed to realize—they were setting up those trying to get on and off the beach for head-on collisions.
In summer when we’ve had no rain and heavy beach traffic, the sand on the beach becomes silt-like soft and deep requiring drivers to gun and run off the beach. When drivers sit on top of the ramp blocking one lane, drivers must blindly go into the oncoming traffic lane where they may encounter a vehicle either trying to get off the beach, fishtailing up the ramp or trying to get onto the beach. Please do not create a dangerous situation by stopping at the top of a ramp. Another time, I found a man blocking the ramp and taking air out of his tires. When cresting the ramp at the top of the dune, he must have remembered. Please turn around, drive back to the parking lot, and tend to your tires there. The top of the ramp is not the appropriate place for this activity.
Don’t Walk On The Dunes
Our dunes protect the island from flooding. The dune’s strength comes from the vegetation, which helps protect the dune from eroding. The sand environment is a fragile place for roots to take hold. Walking on the dunes disrupts the roots and endangers the life of the plants. Those dune plants also create nesting areas and food for wildlife.
Stingray Vs. Skate?
Do you know the difference between a stingray and a skate? They do look vey similar, but the stingray is the only one dangerous. Due to the publicity of Steve Irwin’s death, most people assume a sting from a stingray is always fatal. Not true. The injury is painful, but usually not fatal. One day, I found a man clubbing a skate to death dramatically declaring he’d saved his children from death by stingray. The skate he clubbed to death is considered a sea puppy. In aquariums, skates are housed in short tanks allowing children to pet them. While we have stingrays, skates are far more prevalent. That squishy thing you stepped on could also be a flounder. Please don’t club our puppies to death.
Locals and visitors enjoy having fun on the beach. To prevent accidents or becoming a statistic, please educate yourself and family on the environment, National Park Service rules, and be a considerate citizen.