A day at the beach can turn tragic if you are caught in a rip current. It nearly cost the life of a 10-year-old boy on Anna Maria Island this holiday weekend, but a lifeguard rescued the boy.
According to NOAA, so far this year there have been seven rip current related fatalities in Florida this year, all on the East Coast.
“They’re very dangerous,” says Chelsea Hart, a lifeguard for Manatee County and U.S. Army veteran.
Hart says lifeguards use the same rip current to help save a life. “We can use the rip current to our advantage to get to you faster. We’ll come right into the rip, get to you, pull you out sideways, and pull you back to shore.”
That’s what Hart did on Saturday when she saw a 10-year-old boy struggling in a rip current near this jetty on Coquina Beach. “He was swimming backwards. He was trying and trying and trying. He had a boogie board he let go of, I noticed right away.”
A safety video by Manatee County shows most rip currents are 10 to 20 yards wide and 50 yards long and they’re easy to spot.
“You can see the water pressing outward washed up fluffy looking,” Hart says.
If caught in a rip current, Hart says don’t try to swim against it, but parallel to shore at a 45- or 90-degree angle. If you get tired relax. “You want to tread water or lay on your back, don’t panic or overexert yourself.”
Then call for help.
“You can scream or wave your arms. We’ve got our eyes and ears we’re listening, we’re seeing, we're always scanning the water back and forth. We’ll see you,” says Hart.
Manatee’s Marine Rescue lifeguards train every morning. Hart says they run the beach and take a swim to get a sense of what the water is like that day so they’re prepared for rescues like the one Hart had on Saturday.
Manatee County’s Marine Rescue says beach goers should check the warning flags at the lifeguard towers to know of any swimming hazards and know your abilities and strengths in the water.
Hart also recommends swimming near a lifeguard stand. “You can be in trouble at any moment so swim close to a lifeguard and you’ll always feel safe.”