Knowing the waters where you swim
Longboat Key is a barrier island that is surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico on the west and Sarasota Bay on the east. The island is 4.9 sq miles of land and 12.1 sq miles of water. Longboat Key is a beach paradise attracting thousands of tourists every year.
It is seasonal in that during the winter to spring time, the population of the island increases nearly three times. Many of these visitors/residents spend their time on the beaches and in the water. It is important for everyone to know and understand the importance of water safety.
Longboat Key firefighters and paramedics are the initial responders to all water related emergencies since there are no lifeguards on any beaches. The department has seen an increase in call volume to water emergencies that prompted grant writing and funding requests to provide the most up-to-date water rescue equipment. All department members were trained this week in the use of the new equipment that included new life-vests, a rescue board, rescue float devices as well as learning rescue techniques off the new 32 foot WorldCat Fire/Rescue Vessel that was recently delivered to the department. The new vessel will be in full operation in August. The department is also looking at expanding its water rescue fleet by purchasing a jet-ski and patient sled that can be used to quickly get to victims in a timely manner.
The call volume for marine type rescues began to increase in 2010 where the department answered 33 calls for assistance, an increase of 2.3% from the prior year. The call types included jet ski/boating crashes, distressed swimmers, drowning, cardiac arrests, injuries from rip tides/currents, and allergic reactions from marine life stings/bites.
It is imperative that beachgoers take the time to read all safety signs and become familiar with the waters in which they swim. Understanding the rip tide currents and what to do it case their caught in the current. They should also follow and understand the following:
All parents should understand that wind generates waves. The stronger the wind, the stronger the waves. Taller, more frequent waves mean stronger currents pulling swimmers away from the beach. When the “surf’s up” it is often too dangerous for the average swimmer, particularly small children. Above all, “When in Doubt, Don’t Go Out!”
NO DIVING OR HEAD-FIRST ENTRIES.
Two-thirds of all catastrophic neck injuries (apx. 800 annually) occur in open-water areas, not swimming pools. And no, the sand under the water is not soft and forgiving. Please remember that you can become a quadriplegic in just less than two seconds at a beach, simply by entering head-first from waist-deep water. Feet-first is the only safe way for you and your kids to enter the water.
Water safety experts agree that the #1 problem at beaches is lost children. Lost children not only create water safety worries but child abduction concerns as well. To protect your children, establish a beach plan. Know where you entered the beach, where you will place your blanket and where you will meet if and when you become separated.
CLOSE, ACTIVE SUPERVISION.
Many parents supervise their children passively – that is they watch their children with less than 100% attention. Cooking or cleaning might be acceptable chores while watching kids in your home, but around a beach or a pool you must actively, aggressively and attentively watch your children. If more than one adult is in attendance at the beach, take turns being the “Designated Kid Watcher” where this person only watches the children and is not allowed to read, sleep or perform other distracting tasks. Remember, it only takes seconds to drown.
LEARN HOW TO SWIM /WEAR A LIFEJACKET – THEY FLOAT, YOU DON’T!
If you plan on a beach vacation, you should learn how to swim first. If you don’t know how to swim, then waist-deep water can be dangerously deep. Nonswimmers and small children alike should wear a properly sized and fitted Unites States Coast Guard Approved lifejacket. Use them – they save lives.
Rip currents account for more than 80% of near-drownings in our waters. While rip currents are very strong, they are extremely narrow, do not last long, and will not travel very far “out to sea”. Ask about rip currents at your beach. If rips are present, don’t go in the water. If unexpectedly caught in a rip, don’t panic. Breathe deep and gently swim parallel to shore. Don’t fight the current – it will wear you out!
TAKE FREQUENT BREAKS
Don’t allow your family to just sit on the beach or stay in the water all day long. Fatigue, sunburn, hypothermia (exposure to cold), heat exhaustion and heat stroke can all become problems. For your health and safety, take frequent breaks from the sun and water and take your children to the restroom. Whether bathroom breaks, sun breaks or water breaks, these can all be vitally important safety breaks. And don’t forget about the sun! Apply SPF sunscreen often, especially when exiting the water. Wear hats and bring shade with you. Contact the American Cancer Society for details on preventing skin cancer.
LOOK BUT DON’T TOUCH
Many birds, turtles and marine life forms often wash up on beaches. When this happens, do not get too close and above all, do not touch the organism. You may hurt the creature or it may hurt you! Seek help from local authorities and let them deal with the problem. Don’t let a photo opportunity turn into a tragedy. Look but don’t touch.
FOLLOW YOUR FLAGS, CHECK THE CONDITIONS OF THE BEACH
Fortunately, many beaches across the United States are adopting a universal flag system. Learn the flag system at your beach, and always remember, “When in Doubt, Don’t Go Out!”
COMMON FLAG SYSTEM FOR BEACHES
Double Red- Water Closed to Public
Single Red—High Hazard, High Surf and/or Strong Currents
Yellow—Medium Hazard, Moderate Surf and/or Currents
Green—Low Hazard, Calm Conditions, Exercise Caution
Purple—Dangerous Marine Life