water rescues call attention to rip current threat to ocean swimmers
By IRENE NOLAN
The Hatteras Island
Rescue Squad responded to four calls from the beach at Ocean View Drive
in Avon on Wednesday, June 1, and assisted 12 swimmers in distress.
The troublesome area yesterday and today, according to Bob Helle,
assistant chief and public information officer for the squad, was
between the Avon Pier and the Food Lion.
“We have been going non-stop,” Helle said yesterday evening. “Every
time we got back to the station (in Buxton), we got called out again.”
Helle said the swimmers got in trouble when they tried to get back to
the beach from an outer sandbar and got caught in the heavy rips –
strong, narrow currents that rush back out to sea through breaks in the
bar. They can pull even the strongest swimmers out to sea.
The incidents, he said, involved
adults and children.
In the first call, about 12:30 p.m., a woman had trouble getting back
to the beach and was assisted by family members. The woman
managed to get out of the water, but two family members were
transported to Outer Banks Hospital. Helle said he thinks
The other rescued swimmers declined medical attention.
Helle said that the rescue squad had only one call this afternoon – at
about 12:30 p.m. for a swimmer in trouble just south of Ramp 38 in Avon.
firefighter, he said, went out with fins on a boogie board to stay with
the man until the rescue squad arrived with its Jet Ski.
he was out on the Avon beach this morning in a rescue truck displaying
a red flag, and there were eight to 10 strong rip currents between Ramp
38 and the Avon Pier.
He said he stopped and warned about 10 different people that their
group had set up on the beach right in front of or next to a rip.
The tide is very low on the Avon beach, probably because of a new moon,
and he said there were many breaks in the outer bar causing the
The currents are most dangerous several hours on either side of low
tide, which was about 1 p.m. yesterday and 2 p.m. today.
They can often be identified by looking for brownish, cloudy water
rushing back out against the incoming tide.
Helle said he called the National Weather Service office in Newport,
N.C., which issued a special weather statement to warn of the rips.
The office issues a rip current forecast each day, and the forecast had
been moderate both yesterday
Helle said he hoped after only one call today that swimming conditions
would be improving.
that the rip
currents have also been problematic on beaches in Rodanthe.
Rip currents are a constant danger, especially for visitors not used to
swimming in the ocean. And they are the cause for most
in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
is a wonderful
place to swim - if you are careful. Swimming in the ocean is not the
same as swimming in a pool or lake. Wind, waves, the change of the
tide, the slope of the beach and other factors can cause strong
currents to be present in the water even on the calmest days.
change from day to day and from hour to hour. Before going in the
water, spend a few moments watching the waves. Wave patterns are a good
indicator of the presence of currents and where deep water and other
"surprises" are located. Know what to expect before you go in the water.”
If you are caught in a rip current, stay calm. Don’t fight
current and try to swim straight into the beach, even if you are a
strong swimmer. The currents are usually very narrow and you
escape by swimming parallel to the beach, until you are out of the
rip. Then swim toward the beach.
If you are unable to escape by swimming, float or tread
When the current weakens, swim at an angle away from the current toward
Signal for help if you need it.
On its website, the seashore offers these additional ocean swimming
beaches. The National Park Service is currently operating lifeguarded
beaches Coquina Beach on Bodie Island, Cape Hatteras Beach near the old
lighthouse site, and Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach. The beaches are
staffed by lifeguards from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. every day but Tuesday,
until Labor Day. The park hopes to add Tuesday lifeguards
hiring is completed.
use Coast Guard-approved flotation vests, even while wading.
- Do not swim
ocean alone - take a buddy with you.
- Stay sober
swim while intoxicated. Alcohol can affect your judgment and
body temperature - impairing your ability to swim.
- Don't swim
rough seas. Broken necks and paralysis have resulted from swimmers
being thrown into the ocean bottom headfirst.
- The force
waves crashing at the shore's edge can pick you up and throw you into
the sand. This may result in a dislocated shoulder or knee.
- Due to
currents, never swim in the inlets.
- Do not swim
or near fishing piers.
only with adult supervision.
- Know the
types of ocean currents and how to get out of them.
- Watch the
Storms and squalls come up quickly.
- Don't swim
thunderstorms. Lightning is extremely dangerous and does strike the
- Don't wear
objects when swimming - these objects may attract sharks and other fish.
- Watch for
If stung, seek first aid if needed. Don't rub sand on the stings.
Spraying or pouring vinegar on the sting site often reduces
pain. If you don't have vinegar, try ammonia or denatured alcohol.
- Do not swim
surfers - surfboard fins can cut you.
Information on the rip current threat for each day is available on NOAA
weather radio. You can also get the information online at www.weather.gov/newport.
Click on the surf zone forecast.
Rip current information is also available on at the Cape Hatteras
National Seashore site, www.nps.gov/caha, and at the Eena
Park Service Visitor Centers in Buxton and Ocracoke have information on
rip currents and surf zone forecasts.
Another source for information on dangerous rip currents is the local
surfing reports, which are usually broadcast on the local radio