Ocean Isle Beach town leaders discuss rip current safety
Posted July 9, 2013
Ocean Isle Beach, N.C. — The Town Council of Ocean Isle Beach on Tuesday voted in favor of additional measures along its coast to help make swimming safer after four people drowned in rip currents off Brunswick County beaches over the past week.
For an immediate enhancement to waterfront safety, Ocean Isle Beach council members decided to add EMTs to the regular police patrols, and they will also add flotation throw rings to vehicles on the beach.
The council plans to meet in August with the county and other area municipalities to look at long-term solutions and funding options.
Brunswick County beaches are controlled by municipalities, so the county has no control over how beaches are patrolled and maintained.
But Brunswick County's director of emergency services, Anthony Marzano, says he would like to see warning flags, or some other low-tech option on beachfronts, so that residents and visitors can easily be notified of rip current dangers.
There are no lifeguards along the nearly 40 miles of beaches in the county.
Ocean Isle Beach Mayor Debbie Smith said that she likes the idea of putting out warning flags, but manpower and funding are issues.
Local emergency officials, she said, have been out warning swimmers about rip currents.
"We are trying to educate, educate, educate," she said. "We are physically on the beach with police officers and the fire department talking with people."
Troy Smith, of Chesterfield, Va., says he's seen several water rescues over the 20 years he's been visiting Ocean Isle Beach with his family.
"They need to do something," he said. "We knew there aren't any lifeguards, but we thought, at least, we thought there would be some kind of warning, like red flags or something, up."
Rip currents are strong channels of water that are difficult for the untrained eye to see. Panicked swimmers often drown from exhaustion as they try to fight the current.
Mitchell McLean, 54, a chief District Court judge in western North Carolina, drowned Wednesday off Sunset Beach while trying to help Mary Anne Galway, 55, of Waxhaw, and her husband struggling in the water. Galway also died.
William Nicolaro, 72, of Palm Harbor, Fla., also drowned Wednesday at Ocean Isle Beach. Randall Joyce, 57, of Pfafftown, drowned Thursday in the surf off Holden Beach.
If caught in a rip current, people should let the water carry them out to sea while trying to swim parallel to shore, as the currents are usually narrow and funnel through breaks in sandbars.