Beware of the current

Having grown up on the coast of Florida, I thought I understood rip currents and tidal currents quite well. Since coming to live in Savannah and working along the Atlantic coast, I have come to have a new appreciation for the currents we have here (mostly associated with our dramatic tidal changes!).

With the onset of the summer season, I have recently had the opportunity to witness several near drowning incidents and thought I would share some of them here. The moral is obviously to be careful! If you aren’t familiar with an environment, ask before you go out!

The first incident occurred during Memorial Day Weekend. This is a busy weekend for tourists, but can also be a dangerous one. I had been on the beach with clients of mine waiting on the wind for the past two days. Towards the end of the second day, I was standing with one of them by the kite and some screaming attracted our attention. We didn’t react at first because it sounded as if it was playful screaming. How often do we see kids playing in the water acting like that? Still, the current was strong where they were at, but an incoming tide. It is still dangerous, but mostly because people panic and do not realize they will just be carried into the river where they can swim to shore. We watched this for a minute or two to see what was happening, commenting on how the parents should be there so the kids wouldn’t yell like that. Then, one of the kids grabbed a sign in the water covered in barnacles. We knew at that point that those screams were not in play. As we began running into the water, the others grabbed onto the pole as well. The lifeguards must have been watching the same scene as they came running as well. We happily stopped and let them do their job. It was good they were there. As they started swimming out, the kids began pulling each other under. If you have ever seen someone drowning or learned about what happens, then you know this is now just as dangerous for the rescuer. A person who is drowning can unintentionally drown you in their desperation. I am happy to say that all three children were fine, though pretty exhausted from the effort.

The second incident that I will share turned out to be quite personal. My boyfriend and I had a Sunday together about a week ago due to a no wind day. We had decided to take a walk out onto the sandbar as it was dead low tide. In our area, a dead low tide means that you can almost walk all the way over to the adjacent island! I was a little nervous about walking out that far because I knew it causes stress on the lifeguards and because I intimately know how bad the currents can be (note that I only go far out into the water in our area if I am kiteboarding or Paddleboarding). On our way back, we decided to sit for a minute before we crossed over a channel that had now cut off the sandbar from the island. In the most dangerous current on the island, where the Bull River comes out to meet the ocean, we saw a man swimming with a VERY young child (about 4). I made a comment about how poor of a decision this person was making with their child and we watched to see what would happen. It didn’t take long for that person to call to us for help. We immediately dove into the water and began swimming out to them. I reached the man first and his daughter was under the water at hat point. I cautioned the man to not grab onto me as I didn’t want to be pulled under and I grabbed his daughter and brought her head above water. Now, I have trained in the pool with weights before, but I have never had any experience swimming with a person in my arms. I immediately knew that I wasn’t sure what to do, but Mike had reached me and I handed her off to him. I knew he had lifeguard training and was better prepared on knowing how to swim holding someone. I swam next to the girl’s father while Mike led us back to the sandbar. Once on the sandbar, we walked the two back to a safer crossing point and made sure that they safely made it back to shore.

These two situations are quite similar and they both could have been prevented. If a beach has posted signs about underwater hazards or a dangerous current, heed the warnings. Don’t take the risks if you aren’t intimately familiar with that spot.

After the second incident, I asked Mike what I should have done in that situation had I been alone and needed to swim the girl back to shore. He told me to lay on your back and float and use your legs. If the person is small enough, you can use just one arm to hold them on your chest and use the other to swim. He cautioned that, of course, the biggest risk is becoming a victim yourself to a frantic swimmer, which is why lifeguards have something for you to hold onto before they actually reach you.

So, thanks for reading and be careful out there this summer!


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