Area agencies have already saved several people from the water this year.
Coast Guard personnel on the high seas and inland waterways, first responders on the beaches, and state park rangers all are singing the same tune as the seasonal beach and boating season begins to warm up: Be safe, and take precautions.
In the water
North Topsail Beach first responders answered three calls last weekend related to swimmers in distress. Three people, including a juvenile, were rescued but a couple of people were transported for medical attention.
According to a release, town officials believe the swimmers were caught in a rip current.
Rip currents are formed when tidal wash returns to the ocean - aided by winds - forming a river perpendicular to the beach that can flush swimmers caught in its flow out to sea. Rip Currents are normally 10-to-30 yards wide, and are easily identified in the surf zone by such characteristics as a discoloration of the water that extends in a bank offshore, or a foam or seaweed streak extending seaward from the breakers.
Atlantic Beach Fire and Rescue Chief Adam Snyder says swimmers caught in a rip tide shouldn’t panic.
“If a swimmer finds themselves in a rip tide, they need to swim parallel to the shore until they’re out of the rip," he said.
Snyder and his team of 14 lifeguards are ready to make Atlantic Beach safe.
"We’ll have life guards on the beach beginning Memorial Day weekend through mid-August from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m.," he said. “Our lifeguards are out there to prevent people from getting into bad situations."
Snyder says would-be good Samaritans who see a swimmer in danger should call 911 first and not attempt to make the rescue by themselves. More times than not, the would-be rescuer is the person who drowns while trying to save the person in need.
Already Atlantic Beach first responders have saved two people from the surf with non-life threatening injuries, according to Snyder.
A few miles down the coast from Atlantic Beach, Emerald Isle officials are in the process of training and orienting their life guards.
“On any given day, we’ll have six guards on the beach manning the life guard stands at the eastern and western regional access parks, including four on patrol using all-terrain vehicles," said Emerald Isle Fire Chief Bill Walker.
In 2017, Walker said two people off Emerald Isle’s beaches drowned. Though already this season they’ve had a couple of water rescues, none have been fatal.
“Our guards are out on the beach watching the water and educating the people,” Walker said.
On the water
U.S. Coast Guard officials advise recreational boaters to review their safety procedures and equipment before leaving the dock.
“Have a float plan in place before you take to the water,” advised Hammocks Beach State Park Ranger Jake Vitak.
The state park off Hammocks Beach Road in Swansboro offers a boat dock as well as a kayak and canoe launch from its mainland facility, plus more than 3.5 miles of beach front on nearby Bear Island.
“We have a designated, protected area of beach on Bear Island manned by lifeguards beginning May 26 and running through Labor Day,” Vitak said, adding that approximately 200 yards of the beach is protected, but swimmers enter the remaining waterfront at their own risk.
USCG Emerald Isle Station Chief Clint Spivey says proper personal floatation devices (PFD) is not only a must, it is requirement.
“There must be a PFD onboard for every passenger and children 12 years of age and lower are required to have one on at all times while the boat is in the water,” Spivey said.
Spivey has seen activity increase on the water over the past four weekends and has dispatched his crews to six calls last weekend for a kayaker in distress and people in the water.
“We had a cabin fire in a boat motoring southbound in the Intracoatal Waterway south of Swansboro two weeks ago. The boaters were not hurt and the fire was put out,” Spivey said.
Spivey said boaters need to be aware of tides and water levels when navigating ocean inlets.
“The ocean buoy in Bogue Inlet is ‘off-station’ so boaters need to watch the depth when transiting this channel,” Spivey said.
Reporter Mike McHugh can be reached at 910-219-8455 or email email@example.com