As the weather warms up, many of us will be spending time at the beach. Learn ways to stay safe while having fun at the beach. Michelle Koles knows the importance of educating people of the possible dangers of rip currents and other beach related hazards. She cofounded The Eena Project in 2006 in memory of her sister-in-law, Kristina, whoÂ drowned because of a rip current.
It’s just about that time of year when we bring out the bathing suits, put away the coats, and head out to the beach. It can take time to plan for a beach trip with kids! Clothes to pack, food to assemble, and activities to schedule, butÂ this summer,Â please do not forget the most important part of planning: safety.
Every year millions of people head to the beach. Unfortunately many get in trouble in the water and have to be rescued by a lifeguard. In the United States, over 100 people drown each year as a result of a rip current. In September 2006, my sister-in-law was one of them. She loved the water and, during our vacation in North Carolina , spent lots of time in the ocean. The day before we were to leave, people on the beach saw her out in the water struggling and called 911. Sadly they were not able to rescue her in time. She was only thirty-two years old.
In the months after her untimely death, my family and I spent time researching what happened that day and why. Out of that tragedy emerged The Eena Project. Eena was the name given to my sister-in-law by my then two-year-old son who could not pronounce Kristina. The Eena Project is a nonprofit organization that educates beach visitors on safety in and out of the water, mainly rip currents.
A rip current forms when water rushes out to sea in a narrow path.Â This happens when there is a break near a shore sandbar or the current is diverted by a groin, jetty, or other barrier.Â They can be narrow or more than fifty yards wide.Â They vary in speeds but on average move 1 to 2 feet per second. They have been measured as fast as 8 feet per second, which is faster than an Olympic swimmer! Rip currents can pull swimmers hundreds of yards offshore. Some are present for only a few hours whileÂ others are permanent. Rip currents are more prevalent after storms.
As dangerous as these currents sound, they don’tÂ kill swimmers. Rather, it is the panic and exhaustion that sets in when a rip current carries a swimmer out to sea. Those who have been caught in “rips” say it pulls you out fast, and when you try to swim to shore, you can’t. You become exhausted from struggling and then panic. That is when people get in trouble.
There are many tips that we offer–and theyÂ start before you leave the house to head to the shore.
PREPARE AT HOME
– Check the weather forecast for the area atÂ http://ripcurrents.noaa.gov/forecasts.shtml. While New England is not on the list, you can watch the forecast for past storms and ask a lifeguard at your beach for advice.
– Bring your cell phone and beach address to the beach. This may sound silly, but you will only have seconds to call for help. If you are on a public beach, make sure you know its name. If you are staying in a rental house, be sure to know what part of the beach you will be on. If your house is on the beach and you plan to stay on the beach near the house, bring the house address.
– You should have at least three people if you plan to swim in the ocean. One should be watching on shore and two or more in the ocean. Never swim alone and always have someone on shore who is watching you.
AT THE BEACH
– When picking a spot to spread your blanket and set up chairs, it is always best to be near a lifeguard. When in the ocean, the best place to be is in front of a lifeguard. NEVER swim after hours or in an area that is not supervized by a lifeguard. Do not be confused between a pool lifeguard and a beach lifeguard. Beach lifeguards are trained to rescue people in the ocean and in rip currents.
– Know your limitations. Just because you are a great swimmer does not make you more able to get out a rip current. If you cannot swim, you should not be in the ocean.
– Wear sunscreen and drink plenty of fluids.
Protect yourself and your family this summer. Education and preparation are key to having a safe vacation.
Michelle Koles is the founder of The Eena Project and owner and director of The Bridge: A Montessori Academy. She and her family continue to educate vacationers in North Carolina and are currently working on beaches in other states. Please visit The Eena Project for other lifesaving information, including an instructiveÂ video.
Information about rip currents is sourced from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)