Lifeguards and Coast Guard warn of rip currents on first day of summer

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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – To mark the first day of summer, lifeguards want to make sure you stay safe at the beach, so they teamed up with the U.S. Coast Guard for a lesson on water safety.

There have been at least 200 water rescues at the Oceanfront since Memorial Day.  So far, there have not been any drownings and officials want to keep it that way. 

In the heat of the summer, it’s hard to avoid mother nature’s cooling center.  However, it only takes seconds for the ocean to become dangerous.

“It caught me totally by surprise,” said Virginia Beach EMS Division Chief Bruce Nedelka. 

He’s trained — so after a moment of panic — Chief Nedelka knew what to do.  He said, “Don’t fight the rip current, the rip current will win.  Even if you’re an experienced swimmer, rip currents are powerful.”

Rip currents are powerful and unexpected, which is why Virginia Beach EMS, Virginia Beach Lifesaving Service, and the Coast Guard teamed up for a safety demonstration at the beach.

“We like to consider ourselves first preventers,” said Tom Gill, Chief of Virginia Beach Lifesaving Service.  “We’ve seen a very active summer.”

So what is a rip current?

“Rip currents essentially are channels of water moving away from the shore,” said Gill.

Petty Officer Spence Kelly, with the U.S. Coast Guard said, “They can happen during any weather, smooth or calm, they’re caused by strong waves and wind there, happens during low tide or high tide.”

Officials recommend people swim near lifeguards because they are trained to look for distressed swimmers and respond within seconds. 

If you’re caught in a rip current, officials say its key to not panic.  If you’re near a lifeguard, get their attention.  You can also swim parallel to shore, but not against the current.

Kelly said, “For us, at Station Little Creek, we workout everyday, but we still can’t beat a rip current there.”

“The fear and exhaustion factor that’s going to really make people lose that, lose that ability to fight that for a long period of time,” Gill said.

The lifeguards are constantly monitoring the water to keep people away from dangerous areas.  Officials also recommend swimming with a buddy.

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