NPS Lifeguards Keep Seashore Beaches Safe
Contact: Outer Banks Group, (252) 473-2111
Water safety is a major concern on the Outer Banks. Visitors to the miles of beautiful beaches may not be aware of potential dangers including strong wave action, rip currents, marine life, and shifting sands. To provide safe swimming areas, Cape Hatteras National Seashore has three lifeguarded beaches, two of which were staffed by National Park Service employees this summer. The park’s lifeguard operation on Ocracoke Island ends August 24 while the Buxton beach will be guarded through Labor Day. The third beach, Coquina Beach on Bodie Island, is a guarded beach partnership between the National Park Service and the Town of Nags Head, who supplies the lifeguards. This vital partnership has allowed both the park and the town to provide public safety through Labor Day at a very popular beach.
National Park Service lifeguards Joey Crum, Daniel Kruger, Tim Leonard, Hilary Linsenbigler, Meriel Linsenbigler, Travis Ward, and Jeremy Woolard staff the beach at Buxton. Working from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm daily, they have a wide range of duties including rescues, providing medical assistance, maintaining reports, personal training, and educating the public about important issues such as the weather, conditions of the water, and rip currents. Their greatest responsibility is watching the 100 foot wide area of the ocean where they perform surf rescues if necessary as well as assisting National Park Service Law Enforcement Officers with surf rescues in other areas of the Seashore.
The 2006 season has been an active one for the Seashore’s lifeguards. An estimated average of four water rescues a week, most of which were adults caught in rip currents, has kept the lifeguards busy. Rip currents, channels of water moving out to sea that develop in an opening in a sand bar, can sweep even the strongest swimmer away from the shore. Knowing the dangers rip currents present and how to identify them, the guards watch the water for developing rip currents and warn people to avoid the affected area.
"Our lifeguards, along with the Town of Nags Head partnership, provide a great asset to park visitors," stated Outer Banks Group Superintendent Mike Murray. "We have plans to expand the lifeguard program in the future and look forward to providing the public with more educational and preventative measures to ensure a safe beach experience."
Drowning is one of the leading causes of accidental deaths in the United States and it is important to swim in a lifeguarded area. This is especially true in an ocean environment with the added dangers. Statistically, the possibility of drowning at a beach without a lifeguard is almost five times as great as drowning at one with lifeguards. The National Park Service wishes everyone to enjoy their time on the Seashore and, therefore, offers the following tips for your visit to the beach.
· Protect yourself from the sun – Use sunglasses, sunscreen, a hat, an umbrella or other protective gear. Limit the amount of direct sunlight you receive between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
· Wear Shoes – Hot sand can burn and broken glass can cut your feet.
· Stay Hydrated - Drink plenty of water even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine in them as they can actually make the heat’s affect on your body worse.
· Watch for signs of heat stroke - Heat stroke is life-threatening. Signals include hot, red, and dry skin; changes in consciousness, rapid, weak pulse, and rapid, shallow breathing. Call 911 or notify the lifeguard.
· Swim near a lifeguard
· Learn to swim
· Never swim alone
· Wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket
· Know your swimming limits - Make sure you have enough energy to swim back to shore.
· Set water safety rules for your group based on swimming abilities - for example, inexperienced swimmers should stay in water less than chest deep.
· Obey all warning signs and flags
· Know the ocean conditions – Check with the lifeguards for current conditions such as water temperature and quality, high and low tides, wind and swell direction, surf conditions, dangerous currents, marine life, etc before entering the water. Conditions change quickly, so check every time you go to the beach.
· Be aware of the weather - Pay attention to local weather conditions and forecasts. Stop swimming at the first indication of bad weather.
· Be aware of marine life - Water plants and animals may be dangerous and should be left alone. Some animals to avoid include jellyfish and stingrays.
· Don't fight the current - If you are caught in a rip current, swim parallel to the shore until you break free, then swim diagonally toward the shore.
· Swim sober - Alcohol is a major factor in drowning by lowering body temperature, reducing swimming ability, and impairing judgment.
· Leash your board – Many of the injuries experience on the Seashore are from surfboards. Surfboards and bodyboards should be used only with a leash, preferably a breakaway one.
· Don't dive headfirst – If you do not know the ocean bottom, enter feet first and use caution when bodysurfing.
· Know how to prevent, recognize, and respond to emergencies.
For further information on beach and ocean safety, check out the websites of the American Red Cross at http://www.redcross.org/ and US Lifesaving Association at http://www.usla.org/.