Rescuer Needed Rescuing

Generic wave9On August 8, 2011, my son Ryan and I went for one last swim at Garden City Beach, SC before heading back home. He was riding the waves in and I was just enjoying the cool water as it had been so hot.

After being in the water for about 40 minutes I noticed all the waves had gone. About that time we could hear a woman yelling from shore for her son to “come back in, you’re too far out.” We turned our heads to see who she was yelling to and saw this 10 year old boy in distress. He had a Styrofoam boogie board next to him but didn’t realize it was there as he appeared to be panicking.

Ryan swam toward him and got to him after about his 3rd time going down. He was under water so Ryan went under and pushed him to the top. I arrived a few seconds later and grabbed the boy at which point he tried to climb on top of me. By this time the people on shore were gathering and, getting smaller. I can’t say for sure how far out we were but it had to be at least 75 to 100 yards. I had a hold of the boy and began swimming, to no avail, back to shore. I swam as hard as I could for what seemed like forever but was probably 5 to 7 minutes.

The lifeguards got to us just in time as I’m not sure how much longer I could have lasted. I’ve been caught in a couple of rip currents before but for whatever reason, I did not swim parallel to shore. I don’t think that little boy knew how to swim and was relying on his boogie board for safety.

I’m happy to say we are all doing fine.

– Bill, South Carolina

Originally posted on http://www.nws.noaa.gov/ripcurrents/real_life.shtml

Life Vests Worthwhile Investments

Generic Wave8On Jun 21, 2011, I was playing in the surf at Nags Head, NC, with my two sons and my two nephews. We were enjoying crashing into the waves. Occasionally, I would dive under a wave and ride the next swell back into the beach.

I remember diving under a wave and coming back up and thinking that the water had grown very calm. I looked over my shoulder and thought to myself that I was further out than what I felt comfortable with. I looked back to the sea, so I wouldn’t get pounded by the next wave, and then back to the beach. In that short time I had been pulled farther out to sea and I could see everyone on the beach getting smaller. I was scared but I did not panic. I waved my hands over my head and yelled for help. I knew I was still getting pulled out and that I would need help to survive. I looked up to God and asked for his help because I did not want to die. On the beach, the rest of my family got the kids out of the water and called 911. One of our friends donned a life vest and swam out to me. We floated back into the shore together and got back on dry ground at about that time the first responders arrived.

I am 45 years old and a good swimmer. During basic training in the Navy many years ago I learned how to float and how to tread water. I was fortunate on many levels that day, I did not panic and one of our friends happened to have life vest because he had brought his sea kayak to the beach. Our family was probably most fortunate because it was me who was pulled out to sea and not one of our kids.

My advice to others is to swim in protected waters and to bring a couple of life vests down to the shore with you just in case you need them. You can purchase these for less than $20 each and had I known of the danger beforehand I would have had these with us.

– Jim, North Carolina

Originally posted on http://www.nws.noaa.gov/ripcurrents/real_life.shtml

Rip Current Campaign Makes A Difference

I was caught in a rip current recently and lived thanks to National Weather Service (NWS) materials.

We benefitted from the Break the Grip of the Rip campaign and the materials put out by the Eena Project in the Outer Banks in a couple of ways: From the materials left in our beach house packet and the magnet on the fridge, I did remember that we needed to swim parallel to the shore – we had been teaching my nephews that earlier in the trip, since they don’t swim in the ocean that much. What really saved us was remembering the instruction to wave your arm to get help. I did that in a big way and know that was what brought people to us.

I think the beaches where we were would have benefitted from more signs like I’ve seen on other beaches.

– Melissa, North Carolina

Originally posted on http://www.nws.noaa.gov/ripcurrents/real_life.shtml

Survivor, Then Rescuer

Generic wave13Hi. My name is Bill Proenza and I am the Director for the Southern Region of the National Weather Service. My experience with rip currents is first hand.

At the age of 11, I was swimming off the Florida Coast, near Key Biscayne, and found myself carried into deep water. I tried to swim toward shore but to no avail. After being pulled under the water once, I called for help. Fortunately, an experienced swimmer pulled me to safety.

Following this event, I took lessons through the Red Cross swimming program. While the program helped me improve my swimming ability, it did not offer much insight on handling what we called “undertows” (rip currents). Nevertheless, the training did pay off two years later, when I had the chance to save a man who was trapped in a rip current, again off Florida’s east coast. I noticed him struggling in the water and crying out for help. I swam behind him and managed to push him at an angle toward the shore. He told me he couldn’t swim but found himself drawn into deeper and deeper water.

It is my hope that you take these safety rules and the dangers of rip currents to heart. If you do so, your trips to the coast should be pleasant, enjoyable and safe for you, your family and friends.

– Bill, Florida

Originally posted on http://www.nws.noaa.gov/ripcurrents/real_life.shtml

A Close Call for Sisters

Generic Wave4It was early fall of 2002 and my husband and I were down for a weekend at Gulfshores, Alabama with my sister and her boyfriend. It was our first afternoon there and I had seen how bad the tides were and decided not to go in the water; however my sister had another idea when she arrived.

Without a care in the world and no regard to the wave action, she plunges in and took her boyfriend with her. Upon my realization she was in the water, I got to the beach in time to see her floating out and her boyfriend trying to make it to shore. I jumped in to swim out to my sister and before long, I felt the rip tide. There was no bottom left to the sea floor.

I had been in about 4 1/2 feet of water when this happened. I tried in vain to reach for my sister, who was struggling to swim towards the beach. I myself was stuck and could not swim inward. My husband pulled me from the tide and upon getting to shore, I ran for more help. It took 4 very strong young men to pull my sister in.

I have never experienced something so terrifying in my life and even though I knew to swim sideways and out of the trap, my fear of drowning and of my sister drowning displaced all knowledge. I believe my sister has a healthy respect now for the water and as for me, I have never been back in. Just for the record, we are both in our early 40s and both know how to swim. This can happen to anyone and your best chance of survival is to be aware of the dangers present!

– Toni, Alabama

Originally posted on http://www.nws.noaa.gov/ripcurrents/real_life.shtml

Kayakers Save Man From Dang-Near Drowning

timthumb.phpI’ve always been more of a classic rock guy, but last year was definitely my country song year… my dog done died, I dang-near drowned, and my woman done left me. This is the story of my dang-near drowning.

Losing our fuzzy little girl, Scoozi, to cancer was devastating and took much of the joy out of our marriage. By late summer, I needed to get away and chose my favorite place anywhere – “up north” Michigan. My family had a Lake Michigan cottage on Platte Bay, where we could see sunrises and sunsets over the water, Empire Bluffs, Sleeping Bear Dunes, and the Manitou Islands in a spectacular panorama. Although we lost the cottage after the area became the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the view is still there so that’s where I headed.

It was a beautiful day. Clear skies, 80 degree temps, and calm water. I went wading out to a sandbar and drowned the cell phone in my shorts pocket – a little something we like to call foreshadowing.

After a couple hours at the cottage site I headed north and hiked the Empire Bluffs for a bird’s eye view of the lake. I noticed the waves were picking up. More foreshadowing.

After some souvenir shopping in Glen Arbor, I decided to make one more stop in Leland, aka Historic Fishtown, before heading home. I bought a giant sandwich at the Cheese Shanty and went to Van’s Beach, where the wind and waves had really picked up. There were lots of people on the beach and in the water, so after assessing that there was no danger of sharks, I went in a few feet to splash in the waves.jaws_dts_hires

The water was warm and I went in up to my waist. The waves were about 4-5 feet high and tons of fun. After a while I realized I was in up to my chest so started heading back in when I soon noticed I was moonwalking – walking toward shore but still moving away from it. Suddenly I was in up to my neck and then treading water.

I remembered from the old TV show Baywatch that this must be a “riptide” like on the ocean and that to escape I esq-09-baywatch-cast-photo-2012-lgshould swim parallel to the shore and then back in (I always said it was an educational program).

I knew I was a better swimmer on my back and was less likely to inhale water, so I flipped over and tried to swim north. But the big waves were relentless. Every 5-6 seconds another wave would pound me underwater and forced me into a rhythm of holding my breath, swimming back up, making sure I wasn’t in another wave, breathing out and in, yelling for help, trying to wave and swim some more, but then the next wave would knock me back to the bottom.

I knew no one could hear me over the wind and crashing waves, no one could see me between the waves as far out as I must be by now, and I couldn’t tell where I was anymore to know where to swim. I was getting tired and then I had a chilling realization: I wasn’t going to get out of this. This was how I was going to die. Right here. On this beautiful day. In a place where I’d had some of the best moments of my life. And soon.6869245193_37d92cec4d_z

I thought of my wife and the rough year we’d had and how I was about to make her a widow. I thought of my mom who lost her husband a few years ago and was now going to lose her son. I thought of other family and friends and wondered whether they’d miss me. I wondered whether anyone would come to my funeral.

As I became more and more exhausted, I decided the next time or two that I got knocked down, I’d have to just breathe in underwater and hope it was quick and painless. I wondered whether I’d see my dad and grandparents soon.

Then everything went dark.

And everything went silent.

Then after a few seconds I heard muffled voices. I felt I was being carried.

Then I felt I was being set down on warm sand. I could understand the voices a bit better. They were asking if I was OK. I couldn’t see anything and I asked if I was dead. They said no, I was on the beach. I argued that I couldn’t be because I had just been out in the lake drowning. They said someone saved me. I argued that wasn’t possible. Someone in a kayak had saved me. I kept arguing. Then I heard sirens and was soon taken to the hospital.

On the way I began to see again and I overheard that they were trying to close the beach or at least warn people to stay out of the water. At the hospital I asked the EMT to find out who saved me and thank them for me. He said it’s not like they’d be waiting there to be thanked, and I should just “pay it forward.”

The next day I was fine and drove home. I began to ask, “what does it mean,” “what Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 8.46.48 PMshould it mean,” “what could it mean?” Then someone sent me the local newspaper with a photo of me laying on the beach, which was shocking enough. But then I saw the adjacent headline about a 16 year-old boy who drowned in the same rip current less than an hour later. No one shut down the beach. He wasn’t found until the next day.

Talk about survivor guilt – why was I saved and not him?

But I soon went back to a better question about what I could do to “pay it forward” and help make sure it doesn’t happen to others. After a few more days it hit me – I’m a communicator. I’ve been in the communication field my whole career. I could use my strengths and experience to create an awareness campaign to let people know how to

When in doubt, don't go out. If trapped, don't fight the current... flip, float, and follow the path of least resistance - and yell for help. Don't try to save someone without first finding a flotation device.

When in doubt, don’t go out. If trapped, don’t fight the current… flip, float, and follow the path of least resistance – and yell for help. Don’t try to save someone without first finding a flotation device.

avoid, escape, and safely save others from rip currents.

So now I’m working with an amazing group of scientists, first responders, and others all sharing in the goal to reduce the number of drownings, so more people have happy endings. And although my woman still done left me, I do have a new love of my life – my fuzzy little boy, Mackinaw.

Happy Mackie

Finally, please do everything you can to learn more about avoiding, escaping, and saving others from dangerous currents, and safely enjoy the water and waves.

– Jamie Racklyeft