It’s now officially summer and the staggering statistics are out: eight drowning deaths have been reported along North Carolina’s coast in the past month. The cause of six of them? Rip currents.
More than 50 rip currents have been reported at North Carolina’s beaches so far in 2019. Twenty-five of them were located in Carolina Beach with 30 more reported at Wrightsville Beach.
“The safety of our residents and children is one of my top priorities,” said Safe Kids North Carolina chairman and Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey. “I urge everyone to be on alert for hazardous swimming conditions while they are enjoying the water this summer. Please heed the safety tips provided.”
Drowning is the number one cause of unintentional deaths worldwide. In the United States, it ranks number five. Here’s how to avoid it:
Watch for rip currents – Rip currents are a strong channel of water extending from the shore out into the water. If you see a current of choppy, off-colored water extending from the shore, steer clear. If you do get pulled out, stay calm, let the current carry you for a while and keep breathing. Don’t try to swim against the current. Gain your composure and start swimming horizontally to the shore until you’re out of the current. Once out, swim diagonally towards the shore. If you can’t make it to the shore, wave your arms and make noise so someone can see or hear you and get help.
How do rip currents form? When waves break more strongly than others on the shore, they can cause a circulation in the water that produces a rip current. Rip currents tend to form near a shallow point in the water, such as a sandbar, or close to jetties and piers and can happen at any beach with breaking waves. Their force is strong enough to pull the strongest swimmer out to sea.
Heed the warning flags:
Red flags indicate strong surf and currents.
Yellow flags indicate moderate surf and currents – the water is likely to be rough but not exceedingly dangerous. Exercise caution and stay near the lifeguards.
Green flags indicate the ocean is calm or clear.
Blue or purple flags often indicate that potentially dangerous marine life (sharks, jellyfish) are in the area or have been spotted nearby.
Know how to swim:
Ocean swimming is different from swimming in a pool or lake – be prepared to deal with strong surf before running in.
If you’re at the beach with a child or an adult who can’t swim, make sure everyone has a well-fitting life jacket.
The ocean floor is not flat and beaches can change drastically from year to year. When heading into the water, be aware that the ocean floor can drop off unexpectedly, so be prepared to swim in water over your head.
Obey the buddy system while swimming. Keep a friend nearby in case either of you ends up needing help.
Pick a swimming spot close to a lifeguard. Lifeguards are there for a reason – they know and can see things about the beach that most beachgoers don’t.
Be aware of waves. Waves are powerful. A recent study out of Delaware found that injuries resulting from strong waves can range from simple sprains, broken collarbones and dislocated shoulders to more serious injuries including blunt organ trauma and spinal injuries, which can lead to paralysis.
Watch for sun sickness or heatstroke. A few hours in the sun can cause serious symptoms and may even lead to severe sickness. Heat exhaustion, heat stroke and sun poisoning can result from dehydration and extended exposure to high temperatures. Make sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Avoid dehydrating liquids such as alcohol and coffee.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion, heat stroke and sun poisoning include confusion and dizziness, fatigue, headache, muscle cramps or weakness, nausea, excessive sweating or lack of sweating, pale skin, swelling of the hands or face, rapid heartbeat and confusion. Sun poisoning can also be indicated by skin redness and blistering, pain and tingling, or fever and chills.
If these symptoms are displayed, get out of the sun and heat, remove any unnecessary clothing, drink plenty of water and take a cool bath or shower. If symptoms are on the severe side – swelling, confusion, painful and blistering sunburns – seek medical attention.
Safe Kids North Carolina is the umbrella coalition for Safe Kids Jackson County. This coalition works to reduce accidental death and injury to children ages 0 to 19 years through prevention, education and intervention. For more information about the local coalition, contact Anna Lippard at 587-8225.