Coast Guard and National Weather Service warn boaters of hazardous surf conditions

Mid Atlantic Coast Guard NewsWilmington, N.C. — The Coast Guard and the National Weather Service are advising boaters and swimmers to use extreme caution this week and through the weekend as Tropical Storm Leslie creates dangerous conditions on North Carolina beaches and in many of the inlets along the coast.

The National Weather Service has issued a beach hazards statement for dangerous shore break and a high threat of rip currents.

The Coast Guard regularly works with local lifeguards and ocean rescue agencies to respond to swimmers in distress. According to the National Weather Service, since 2000, 82 people have been killed by rip currents in the Carolinas. A large percentage of Carolina rip current drowning deaths are males between the ages of 31 to 50, but all ages and genders have been affected. Coast Guard Sector North Carolina personnel have responded to at least 13 swimmers in distress throughout the summer, usually because they were caught in a rip current, swimming in the strong currents of an inlet or overcome by heavy surf. Half of these distress situations resulted in drowning deaths.

“Often times the biggest rip current outbreaks occur from swells from a distant storm,” said Steven Pfaff from the National Weather Service Office in Wilmington. “The swells affect large areas of coastline, putting a higher number of people at risk. Always pay attention to lifeguards and adhere to instructions from the local beach communities, never swim alone and check the rip current forecast for your location before heading to the beach.”

In addition to rip currents, the high surf associated with Tropical Storm Leslie creates elevated risk in the numerous shallow draft inlets along the coast. Sector North Carolina personnel respond to several capsized boats every summer related to breaking surf in the inlets. According to the National Weather Service, wave hazards near inlet entrances are greatest when large incoming waves coincide with a falling, or outgoing tide. The tidal current interacts with the large waves causing very steep and dangerous wave conditions near the entrances of inlets.

Mariners are urged to always wear a life jacket, check weather forecasts prior to going offshore and never enter an inlet with breaking surf. Surf conditions are dangerous not only to the mariner, but also to the rescuers. The Coast Guard recommends taking the time to transit to a safer inlet.  Recently on Aug. 26, 2012, a 24-foot power boat with four people on board was capsized by breaking surf in Hatteras Inlet, all the boaters were rescued by a Coast Guard crew aboard a 47-foot Motor Life Boat.

“The ocean is unforgiving,” said Capt. Anthony Popiel, the Coast Guard Sector North Carolina commander. “It is extremely important for people to carefully watch weather conditions and know their capabilities prior to getting underway or going in the water. Good judgment, careful planning and proper safety gear can prevent a fun day from turning into tragedy.”

For more information on the National Weather Service advisory, visit:

Newport/Morehead City NWS Office http://www.erh.noaa.gov/er/mhx/

Wilmington NWS Office: http://www.erh.noaa.gov/ilm/

For more information on rip currents, visit http://www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov/

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