Having gone on family vacations to various beaches since I was a small child, I’ve never been afraid of swimming in the ocean. Even when the waves were big or rough, I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of trying to ride them to shore. I’ve become a bit more chicken, or maybe wiser, now that I’m grown up. A visit to North Carolina’s beautiful outer banks last year resulted in two close encounters with some powerful rip tides, or rip currents.
Things Can Quickly Turn Dangerous
Our first sunny day there my husband, Cliff, braved the waters. I watched and shuddered as the waves were larger than I had ever seen before! They towered over Cliff’s head. A strong swimmer (he was a lifeguard as a teen), he fearlessly dove under them. My youngest son, Jake, was 16 at the time. He too is fearless and has always loved the waves.
Jake, however, is diagnosed with severe autism and is not a strong swimmer. He doesn’t yet have the motor planning ability to take swimming lessons or hold his breath on purpose, etc. In any water source over his head we closely supervise him as well as have him wear a ski belt to keep him safe. Jake was ready to ride some waves with his dad, and how could I stop him? We were at the beach, he’s a teenager, and so I fastened his ski belt tightly and watched nervously. I walked along watching closely from the bank as the waves barreled them down the shore. Jake was in heaven! He laughed while holding his legs up straight as he bobbed up and over each enormous wave.
Suddenly the water began pulling Jake away swiftly out of my husband’s reach… my husband attempted to close the gap, but couldn’t. Knowing things were taking a turn for dangerous Cliff began yelling to me for help, “TARA! WE’RE STUCK!”
Helpless and Unprepared
WHAT?!? OH NO!!! I held out my empty hands and jumped up and down helplessly and began saying “Help me God! What do I do?!? ” I knew going out there would mean 3 people in trouble. Standing there watching wasn’t helping either!
I made a split decision to sprint down the sparse beach to the nearest people – 3 oblivious men relaxing under one of those bright striped beach umbrellas. About the distance of half a football field I bolted, startling them with my frenzied panic as I barged in front of them pleading, “PLEASE HELP!!! MY SON AND HUSBAND ARE STUCK IN A RIP TIDE!!! ” These guys looked at me as if I was crazy, but as they processed my words they began to get up and head towards my husband and son.
Afraid to look back, and still praying to God, I raced on to the next humans about another half football field away even further down the beach. As I reached this couple, I ranted while motioning towards the emergency. To my great relief I looked back to see my husband waving to me as he and my son were walking onto the safety of the beach. Thank-you God!!!
Strong Swimmers are No Match for Rip Currents
Three hours later, an athletic-looking man who looked to be in his late 20’s went out to swim and got stuck in the same type of rip current, which was more like a whirl pool. It was as if you were looking at a big pot of soup being stirred vigorously with a human being feverishly trying to swim this way or that way to get out with no avail. He began to scream “HELP!” His father immediately swam out to him, but was soon stuck in the same predicament as his son. My husband went out but stayed where he had a firm footing on the ground and extended his arm, “GET TO HERE!” The dad was able to reach between both his exhausted son and Cliff. Cliff then pulled them both inward to safety. By that time quite a few other men had joined the rescue efforts, and they all helped the son and father to shore.
Be Prepared and Aware, It Could Save a Life
Both situations were extremely scary. We learned 3 tips from the local folks that day about best ways to help if someone gets stuck and needs assistance getting to safety.
- Watch and take the flags seriously. If there are no flags try checking the beach’s rip current conditions online. They are subject to change, so check often. If conditions are hazardous, stay shallow and safe.
- Keep a flotation device with a long rope attached to it handy at all times. Use it to throw to someone so you can pull them in.
- If no flotation device is available, form a human chain as quickly as possible to pull them in. One or more persons should remain firmly anchored to hold onto the rescuers who are not – this is crucial to keep the rescuers safe as well.
Hopefully you’ll never experience the horrors of rip tide scares like these, but it’s always good to know what to do if it does happen. Enjoy the beach and be safe!