In response to several area drowning deaths the Town of Emerald Isle created a list of frequently asked questions on beach safety.
Following several drowning deaths in Eastern North Carolina, the Town of Emerald Isle sent out a press release this week with answers to frequently asked questions in an attempt to better inform the public of safe beach practices.
In 2018, Emerald Isle Fire and Rescue lifeguards conducted 8,526 preventative lifeguard interventions, 433 welfare checks of swimmers, and 319 successful water rescues, according to the release.
“Yet, it is quite a challenge to cover the 12 plus miles of ocean strand and a like amount of sound and inlet waterways,” the town wrote. “Despite these substantial efforts by our lifeguards, police and rescue personnel, the Town’s limited resources cannot be everywhere all the time.”
Individual accountability is an important piece of public safety, the town wrote. In order to help spread the word on practicing good safety habits, their frequently asked questions are below. They have been edited for length.
How do I know what beach conditions are for Emerald Isle?
Beach conditions can be found online at EmeraldIsle-NC.org.
What do the flags mean?
Green flags: Conditions are safe. However, the town never flies green flags as they believe there are always risks when going into the ocean.
Yellow flags: Moderate hazards, use caution in the ocean.
Red flags: High risk of strong currents or other hazards and the public is advised to stay out of the water.
Double red flags: Extremely high risk of strong currents or other hazards and the town has enacted a prohibition on swimming. You can be fined or arrested if you go in the water.
Purple flags: An abundance of potentially hazardous marine life in the vicinity, including Portuguese man-o-war, jellyfish, and other creatures.
Why doesn’t the town position Jet Ski’s on the beach strand?
Over many years of testing different approaches, the quickest response is achieved by traveling over the roadways to the closest access rather than trying to work our way through hundreds or thousands of people along a crowded beach. Our goal is to get there as quickly as possible to have the greatest chances of conducting a successful rescue.
Why doesn’t the town buy speed boats to put along the coastline to perform rescues?
Waves and surf conditions along the shoreline make using a boat a dangerous option for rescue situations.
What can I do if I see someone in trouble?
Call 911, getting rescue personnel on the way should be the first priority. If you believe you are an exceptionally good swimmer and are willing to provide assistance, grab a flotation device and go in to help but never enter the water to conduct a rescue without a flotation device. There are 100 rescue buoys stationed on poles along the beach. Swim close enough to the person so that you can toss them the flotation device, but not so close that they can grab you or you will become their flotation device. Talk to them and try to keep them calm until help arrives.
Why doesn’t the town have lifeguards year round?
In order to have a program that would meet United States Lifeguard Association standards, the town would have to post as many as 57 lifeguards on the beach strand daily. This endeavor would be cost prohibitive and is not practical, especially outside of our busy tourist season. The vast majority of water rescue calls take place during the months of May through September. The program has been extremely successful in completing hundreds of water rescues annually. For example, in 2018, Emerald Isle Lifeguards successfully rescued over 105 people in just 11 days.
What other methods has the town tried or tested to improve rescue operations?
Over the years the town has tried many different methods to improve rescue capabilities, including motorized surfboards, zodiac boats, devices that shoot ropes or flotation devices, and drones to drop flotation devices. The current methods used are the ones that are consistently successful, reliable and effective for the conditions that we have along our beach, but the town is constantly on the lookout for the latest and greatest rescue aids, equipment or methods that will help provide the best assistance.
Why doesn’t the town put warnings up on the big signs at the bridge?
The digital signs belong to the North Carolina Department of Transportation. The town has had many conversations with NCDOT about using the signs in cases of dangerous surf conditions, which have been denied by NCDOT due to regulations that restrict the use of those signs to traffic-related messages only. The town uses portable message signs to inform people coming across the bridge when there are unusually rough beach conditions, and especially when the beach is under double red flag conditions.
What can I do to be safe?
Use common sense and take personal responsibility. Check beach conditions before you go out and know what the warning flags mean. If the water looks rough, don’t go in.
Never allow a child to go unattended in the water. If you are more than a foot away, you are too far away from a child. Ocean currents can be extremely strong and can sweep adults off their feet in knee deep water. Children should always be in a Coast Guard Approved flotation device when in the ocean.
Don’t assume that the calmest water is the safest place to swim. The area where you don’t see waves breaking is usually where a rip current is located. If you are unsure about the conditions, ask someone.
Never swim alone, and always swim with a flotation device. Marine life typical feeding times are at sunrise and sunset, it is not recommended to be in the water at these times. While certain marine life feeds at different times of the day, if you notice a school of fish jumping in the water then a marine predator may be nearby.
On calm days where the water appears flat attempt to shuffle your feet while entering the water as the town has experienced an increase of stingray incidents when the ocean becomes flat. Calm waters allow stingrays to settle close to shore, by shuffling your feet when entering the water this disturbs the stingrays and they move away. Emerald Isle on many occasions experiences Portuguese Man-O-War jellyfish along our beach strand. This is due in part to southern-facing beach and prevailing SW winds. Portuguese Man-O-War looks like blue/purple balloons floating on the surface of the water, their tentacles can reach up to 50' long. They are wind-driven and can sting both in and out of the water.
What do I do if I get caught in a rip current?
Remain calm. This is the most important thing you can do. Many drownings attributed to rip currents are actually caused by a person exhausting themselves fighting against the current and going into cardiac arrest. Let the current take you to the release point. Most rip currents will only take you out a few hundred yards. Relax and float until it releases you and then swim parallel to the shore line. The waves will bring you back in. Wave your arms above your head and yell for help. Someone will see you and call for help. If you are able to swim back towards the shore, do it without exhausting yourself.
[Information courtesy of the Town of Emerald Isle]