Coast Guard urges safety while swimming and sailing

The Coast Guard stresses that all boaters and beachgoers in North Carolina and around the country exercise caution and be mindful of safety issues and hazards at all times while in the water.

This summer, there have been four deaths in North Carolina involving people swimming and getting caught in the undertow or rip current.

Rip currents and undertows can drag swimmers away from their boat or beach and lead to death by drowning when they attempt to fight the current and become exhausted. According to the United States Lifesaving Association rip currents cause approximately 100 deaths annually in the United States, more than all other natural hazards except heat and floods. More than 80 percent of rescues by beach lifeguards are due to rip currents totaling 18,000 lifeguard rescues a year.

Tips for swimmers on how to avoid and survive currents:

  • Never swim alone.
  • Be cautious at all times, especially when swimming at unguarded beaches. If in doubt, don’t go out!
  • Whenever possible, swim at a lifeguard-protected beach.
  • If caught in a rip current, remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
  • Don’t fight the current. Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim toward shore or a boat.
  • If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water. When out of the current, swim toward shore or a boat.
  • If you are still unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself by facing the shore or boat, waving your arms, and yelling for help.
  • If you see someone in trouble, get help from a lifeguard. If a lifeguard is not available, have someone call 911. Throw the rip current victim something that floats and yell instructions on how to escape. Remember, many people drown while trying to save someone else from a rip current.

The U.S. Coast Guard’s 2007 Recreational Boating Statistics show:

  • 685 fatalities, 3,673 injuries, 5,191 accidents and $53 million in property damage.
  • 90 percent of drowning victims were not wearing life jackets.
  • Alcohol was the leading contributing factor in approximately one-fifth of all boating fatalities.
  • Only 14 percent of all boating fatalities occurred on boats where the operator had received boating safety instruction.
  • The most reported type of accident was a collision with another vessel. However, capsizing and falls overboard are the most reported types of fatal accidents and accounted for the majority, 60 percent of all boating fatalities.
  • Overall, operator inattention, carelessness or reckless operation, excessive speed and passenger or skier behavior are the leading contributing factors of all reported accidents.

Tips for boaters on how to stay safe while boating:

  • Make sure a friend or relative knows your float plan. A float plan states where you are going and how many people are on board your vessel. It also gives a vessel description, details your destination and what time you expect to arrive there. If you are delayed for some reason, make sure you let someone know.
  • Make certain to check the local weather prior to departing the dock. Weather can change very rapidly and you should keep a watchful eye on the forecasted conditions.
  • Have nautical charts of the area you are boating in, a global positioning device and a reliable means of communication on board your vessel. VHF radio is the best method of communication while on the water. Although cell phones are a good backup, they can be unreliable due to gaps in coverage area and an inevitable dead battery.
  • Wear your life jacket! In an emergency, there might not be enough time to put one on, so wearing one at all times may save your life.

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