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Water Safety Tips

The Ocean

Most of the time, you don't even notice the bare flagpoles dotting the dunes up and down our coast. But when the ocean is too rough for swimming, there's no way you can miss the red flags hoisted all along the beach. If red flags are flying, do not go into the water at all. Not only will the ocean be too dangerous for swimming or wading, it is against the law to swim during a red-flag warning. You will be fined for going into the water.

The flags signify not only dangerous waves, but deadly rip currents as well. Churning water can easily knock you down, and reports of broken bones are not uncommon. Rough water also produces floating debris, such as ships' timbers that seems to come from nowhere. We've seen adult men wading in knee-deep water knocked down by powerful waves and dragged by rip currents on red-flag days. In short, even if you see surfers in the water, stay out while the flags are flying, and caution children to keep well away from the tide line. Keep in mind, too, that if you go into the water while the flags are flying and need rescuing, you are jeopardizing not only your life but also the lifeguard's life when he or she has to come in after you.

Water Sense

Never swim alone.
Never swim at night.
Observe the surf before going in the water, looking for potentially dangerous currents.
Non-swimmers should stay out of the water and wear life jackets if they're going to be near the water.
Swim in areas with on-duty lifeguards, or use extreme care.
Keep non-swimming children well above the marks of the highest waves.
Keep an eye on children at all times, and teach them never to turn their backs on the waves while they play at water's edge.
Don't swim near anglers or deployed fishing lines.
Stay 300 feet away from fishing piers.
Watch out for surfers and give them plenty of room.

Losing Control in the Waves

If a wave crashes down on you while you are surfing or swimming, and you find yourself being tumbled in bubbles and sand like a sheet in a washing machine, don't try to struggle to the surface against it. Curl into a ball, or just go limp and float. The wave will take you to the beach, or you can just swim to the surface when it passes.

Backwash Current

A backwash current on a steeply sloping beach can pull you toward deeper water, but its power is swiftly checked by incoming waves. To escape this current, swim straight toward shore if you're a strong swimmer. If you're not, don't panic; wait and float until the current stops, then swim in.

Littoral Current

The littoral current is a "river of water" moving up or down the shoreline parallel to the beach. It is created by the angled approach of the waves. In stormy conditions, this current can be very powerful due to high wave energy.

Rip Currents

Rip currents often occur where there's a break in a submerged sandbar. Water trapped between the sandbar and the beach rushes out through the breach, sometimes sweeping swimmers out with it. You can see a rip; it's choppy, turbulent, often discolored water that looks deeper than the water around it. If you are caught in a rip, don't try to swim against the current. Instead, swim across the current, parallel to the shore, and slowly work your way back to the beach at an angle. Try to remain calm. Panic will only sap the energy you need to swim out of the rip. Click here for illustration.

Undertow

When a wave comes up on the beach and breaks, the water must run back down to the sea. This is undertow. It sucks at your ankles from small waves, but in heavy surf the undertow can knock you off your feet and carry you offshore. If you're carried out, don't resist. Let the undertow take you out until it subsides. It will only be a few yards. The next wave will help push you shoreward again.

Jellyfish

Watch for jellyfish floating on the surface or in the water. While some can give little more than an annoying stinging sensation, others can produce severe discomfort. The Portuguese man-of-war is sometimes blown onto Outer Banks beaches and can be recognized by its distinctive balloon-like airbladder, often exhibiting a bluish tint. Man-of-war stings can be serious. Anyone who is stung by the tentacles and develops breathing difficulties or generalized body swelling should be transported to the nearest emergency facility for treatment. In extreme cases, death can result from anaphylactic shock associated with man-of-war toxin exposure.

If you're stung by a jellyfish, apply vinegar or meat tenderizer to the affected area. Don't rub the wound site, since rubbing can force toxins deeper into the skin. Pain relievers can also allay some discomfort. Infections can occur, so it's also a good idea to see a doctor.

Hurricanes

June through November marks our hurricane season. Basically, the whole shoreline of the East Coast is threatened when a hurricane blows in, but because of our low elevation, lack of shelter and our situation in the ocean, the barrier islands known as the Outer Banks are especially vulnerable to storms. Forecasters and almanac writers state that a hurricane strikes the Outer Banks approximately once every nine years.

After the active hurricane season of 1999, visitors and locals alike were reminded of the dangers these huge storms can bring. It's wise to be prepared by packing a hurricane kit in advance. Seethe gray box below for a list of items to include in such a kit.

When Dare County officials order an evacuation, everyone must leave the Outer Banks. This includes everyone from vacationers who have already paid for their week's stay to permanent residents who are sometimes hesitant to leave their homes. Newspapers, radio, and television stations keep the public notified about evacuations as well as re-entry information. Make plans early especially if you have pets or elderly people with you. The Weather Channel (channel 16 in the local cable listing) will issue early warnings or signs of an approaching storm. By all means, stay off the beaches and out of the water especially during an electrical storm.

Tornadoes spawned by hurricanes are among the worst weather-related killers. When a hurricane approaches, listen for tornado watches and warnings. (A tornado watch means conditions are favorable for tornadoes to develop. A warning means a tornado has been sighted). When a warning is issued, seek shelter immediately, preferably in an inside room away from any windows. If you are outside at the time and a tornado is headed your way, move away from its path at a right angle. If you feel you don't have time to escape, lie flat in a ditch or ravine.

Here are some guidelines to help you stay safe if a hurricane threatens.
 
By late May, recheck your supply of boards, tools, batteries, non- perishable foods and other items you may need during a hurricane.
Listen to the latest weather reports and official notices. This will give you advance notice, sometimes before watches and warnings are issued. Keep a battery-powered radio on hand in case the power goes out.
If your area comes under a hurricane watch, continue normal activities but stay tuned to the Weather Channel or to a local radio station and ignore rumors.
If your area receives a hurricane warning, stay calm. Leave low- lying areas that may be swept by high tides or storm waves. If there's time, secure mobile homes before leaving for more substantial shelter. Move automobiles to high ground as both sound and sea can flood even central spots on the Outer Banks.
Moor boats securely or haul them out of the water to a safe place.
Board up windows or protect them with storm shutters. (Though some people recommend using tape on windows, many experts and most locals will tell you tape isn't strong enough to work and it's very difficult to remove). Secure outdoor objects that might blow away such as garbage cans, outdoor furniture, tools, etc. that may become dangerous missiles in high winds. If the items can't be tied down, bring them inside.
Store drinking water in clean bathtubs, jugs or bottles since water supplies can become contaminated by hurricane floods.
Be sure you have lots of flashlights, batteries, a battery-operated radio, and perhaps emergency cooking facilities.
Keep your car fueled since service stations may be inoperable for several days following a storm.
Stay indoors during a storm, and keep your pets inside too. Do not attempt to travel by foot or car. Monitor weather conditions and don't be fooled by the calm of the hurricane's eye ? the storm isn't over yet!
Stay out of disaster areas unless you are qualified to help. Your presence might hamper rescue work.
If necessary, seek medical attention at the nearest Red Cross disaster station or health center.
Do not travel except in an emergency such as transporting someone who is injured. Be careful along debris-filled streets and highways. Roads may be under- mined and could collapse under the weight of the car. Floodwater could hide dangerous holes in the road.
Avoid loose and dangling wires. Report them to North Carolina Power or the police.
Report broken sewer or water mains to the county or town water department.
Be careful not to start fires. Lowered water pressure may make fire fighting difficult.
Stay away from rivers and streams.
Check roofs, windows and outdoor storage areas for wind or water damage.
Do not let young children or your pets outside immediately after a storm. There are numerous dangers like fallen power lines and wild animals that have been disoriented because of the storm.

Remember, you already possess the most important safety tool - common sense. Use it often and you're sure to have a safe and enjoyable vacation.

Swimming Tips


from the Hawaiian Lifeguard Association

Sharp coral: Many beaches have sharp coral reefs close to the shoreline. Use caution when swimming gin shallow reef areas. Should you be injured, see a lifeguard for minor first aid assistance. Should coral become embedded deeply see your doctor as soon as possible to have it removed. Deep cuts should be attended to by a physician to avoid the risk of infection. If you're tide pooling or reef walking wear protective foot gear.

Dangerous shore break: This is the condition when waves break directly on the shore. Shore breaks are unpredictable and dangerous. They have caused many serious neck and spinal injuries to both experienced and inexperienced bodysurfers and swimmers. Small waves can be very dangerous, too. Be sure to ask a lifeguard about the wave conditions at the beach you may be attending. Be especially careful when the surf's up and conditions at the beach you may be attending.

High surf: Large powerful waves are generated by winds and storms at sea sometimes thousands of miles from the Hawaiian Islands. If you're uncertain of your abilities, don't go into the ocean during high surf, heed all posted high surf warnings.

Strong current: These are swift moving channels of water against which it is difficult to swim. Strong currents frequently accompany high surf and rapid tide changes and can be recognized as a turbulent channel of water between areas where waves are breaking. When caught in a strong current, try to keep a level head and don't panic. Wave one or both hands in the air, and scream or call for help. Swim diagonally to the current, not against it.

Waves on ledge: These are large waves originating from deep water breaking on rock ledges. However, this condition can occur even when the water appears to be calm. Be very cautious when walking along rocky coastlines where waves are breaking. Rocks become slippery and are sharp, abrasive lava stone. Lava is very porous and it crumbles easily. Don't ever go into the wet rocky zone. The ocean is unpredictable and has been known to wash people away. Don't put yourself in a position where you could be swept away. Please Heed all posted warnings. Your life could depend on it.

Some basic ocean safety tips:
 
Swim in areas with lifeguards
Never swim alone
Don't dive into unknown water or into shallow breaking waves
Ask a lifeguard about beach and surf conditions before swimming
If you are unable to swim out of a strong current, signal for help
Rely on your swimming ability rather than a flotation device

 


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