By Stephanie Heckman, Red Cross Public Relations Intern
After a seemlingly never-ending winter, many lucky Ohioans will flock to the beach this summer. Oceanside vacations are wonderful experiences; however, it’s important to protect yourself and your family. Recently, four men drowned during a two-day period on the beaches of Gulf Shores, Alabama. All four deaths occurred because of rip currents which, although appearing calm on the surface of the water, can pull people out to sea.
This tragedy by the Gulf of Mexico can be repeated anywhere and warns us of the potential dangers that come along with swimming. Rip currents are not just a hazard of the ocean; they have also taken lives in lakes, particularly among the Great Lakes, which is one of the most dangerous areas in the country for rip currents. Yearly, rip currents kill around 100 Americans, a higher number than the death count by shark attacks and lightning combined.
Swimming in the ocean or other body of water is much more dangerous and different than swimming in a pool. The conditions of currents and waves can change in an instant and swimming in moving bodies of water causes fatigue at a faster rate. Rip currents may be spotted through warning signs that include a channel of shifting water, a change in water color, a line of foam or seaweed moving steadily outward, or a break in incoming wave pattern. Because not all rip currents can be spotted, it’s important to follow all safety tips and watch out for weather warnings and signs.
A Red Cross safety poll found that nearly half of Americans have experienced an incident where they were worried that they might drown. However, over half of participants plan to partake in activities that increase the risk of drowning. Over half plan on swimming without a lifeguard, one in five families with children report that none of the children can swim and 60% respondents said that they would take the dangerous risk of trying to jump in and rescue someone, rather than calling for help and throwing a flotation device.
Use the National Weather Service Rip Current Safety Forecast to learn the safety level of the beach that you are visiting. When you arrive at the beach, ask the lifeguard about the safety level, rip current forecas and other potentially dangerous weather conditions expected for that day. Always talk to a lifeguard before entering any ocean, gulf or lake. The lifeguard can tell you about the safest place to swim.
Always watch out for warning flags. Double red signals that the beach is closed to the public, single red means “high hazard” waves or currents, yello flags symbolize “medium hazard,” green means “safe conditions,” and purple warns that dangerous marine life resides.
If you are ever caught in a rip current, stay calm, obey all instructions from lifeguards, and never try to swim against the current. Instead, swim in a direction following the seashore until you are able to escape the current and swim to shore. If you are unable to escape the current, try to float or tread the water while calling attention to yourself. If you see someone who may be trying to escape a rip current, never try to save them yourself unless you are trained lifeguard. Many people die trying to save others from drowning, including recently in the Alabama case. Instead, yell for a lifeguard, try to throw something that the victim can hold onto and call 911.
Swimming classes are essential for toddlers and children of all ages or adults who have not yet learned proper swimming techniques. The American Red Cross offers a Water and Swimming Safety Skills Chart to choose the correct level of swimming instruction for children or adults. Enroll in water safety and swimming courses today.
Other tips for staying safe this summer include carrying fresh water to prevent dehydration, avoiding alcohol, swimming only in designated areas watched by a lifeguard, never swimming alone, always checking the water and wave conditions before you head out and reading all posted information and warnings. Never leave children or pets unattended and always take a fully charged cell phone to the beach in the event that you may have to dial 911.
Download the Red Cross First Aid App to always stay prepared for emergencies.