A mother of three from Georgia drowned after becoming tumbled by waves during the summer.
A father and his two children became stranded on a paddleboat in 2011 after strong winds and currents carried the vessel further into the Gulf of Mexico than they intended.
And, in 2008, two swimmers drowned off of Longboat Key after they were swept into the Gulf.
These incidents have one thing in common: The victims became caught up in rip tides, which are powerful currents of water moving away from shore. They can sweep even the strongest swimmer out to sea.
Longboat Key Fire Rescue Chief Paul Dezzi emailed a story to commissioners earlier this week that illustrates the tragic toll that rip tides can take:
In San Francisco, a man attempted to rescue his dog, who was swept away in a rip tide while playing fetch at the beach. His son and wife ran after them.
The bodies of the man and woman were discovered earlier this week, and the boy is presumed dead.
“It’s going to keep happening unless we do something about it,” Dezzi said.
Now, the Fire Rescue Department is taking steps to warn the public about the dangers of rip tides.
It is distributing flyers to properties in an effort to make beachgoers aware of the rip tide’s force and to educate them about what to do if caught in a current.
The department is also considering the possibility of placing red, yellow or green warning flags on poles outside both fire stations to let beachgoers know about current conditions. Town Attorney David Persson is researching the issue to determine any legal liability that could arise from providing the notifications, according to Dezzi.
The department is also researching obtaining warning signage that is available for free from the state.
The flyer offers advice for beachgoers that is important to surviving a rip current but may seem difficult to follow:
Stay calm to conserve energy and avoid fighting the current.
“Think of it like a treadmill you can’t turn off,” the flyer states. “You want to step to the side of it.”
Swim across the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim and angle away from the current and toward the shore.
If you can’t escape it, try to float or calmly tread water. Rip current strength eventually subsides offshore. When it does, swim to the shore.
If at any time you feel you will be unable to reach the shore, draw attention to yourself by facing the shore, waving your arms and yelling for help.
Signs that a rip current is present are subtle and may not be present at all but can include a channel of churning, choppy water; an area with a notable difference in water color; a line of foam, seaweed or debris moving steadily seaward; or a break in the incoming wave pattern.
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