With miles of un-crowded sand, surf, fun and sun, North Carolina's Brunswick Islands is the perfect destination for beach lovers. And a big part of a beach vacation for many is enjoying mother nature and the ocean. Wherever you take your beach vacation - in the Brunswick Islands or elsewhere - it's important to remember that we share the ocean with many types of animals and that tides and currents are an everyday part of the ocean. With that in mind, please take a moment to review some tips on staying safe in the water.
Rip currents are fast-moving water channels that form when waves break onshore between barrier islands, sandbars or piers; gravity pulls the water forcefully and swiftly out to sea, a hazard for even the best swimmers.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), rip currents can be difficult to see, but here are some clues:
- a channel of churning, choppy water;
- an area with a noticeable difference in color;
- a line of foam, seaweed, or debris moving steadily out to sea;
- and/or a break in the incoming wave pattern.
Even the strongest swimmer can’t swim against a rip current, but you can outsmart it:
- Stay calm. Don’t fight by swimming straight back to shore, or you’ll risk tiring yourself out.
- Swim sideways out of the current and parallel to the shore (see diagram). Then swim at an angle back to the shore.
- If you’re still caught, float or tread water. The current will eventually dissipate. Even if you’re carried far out, if you haven’t worn yourself out fighting it, you should be able to slowly swim parallel and then at an angle back to shore. If your arms are too tired, swim on your back and use just your legs and feet to propel yourself to the beach.
If you see someone caught in a rip current, don’t try to rescue them yourself. Call 911; yell out the above instructions, and/or toss them a flotation device – it’s a good idea to take one to the beach on every visit. Here’s a link to the NOAA rip current forecast for our area beaches: http://www.weather.gov/beach/ilm
Jellyfish can put the sting on your vacation. Always scan the water before splashing in. Make sure you educate your children about jellyfish, as they might touch them out of curiosity in the water or on the sand. In case of a sting, rinse off any remaining tentacles with salt water, not fresh, and use a credit card or other item to scrape, if necessary. Then rinse with vinegar, not fresh water. If you experience swelling, shortness of breath, or faintness, seek medical attention immediately.
The less common blue-purple Portuguese man o' war is not a jellyfish but a siphonophore. It can deliver a painful sting even when dead. Portugese man o' war stings are treated differently than jellyfish stings. First apply saltwater and then follow-up with hot water for 15 to 20 minutes. Do not treat with vinegar. If necessary seek medical attention.
While the ocean is home to a wide variety of sea life including sharks, shark encounters are rare. According to the ISAF, Florida Museum of Natural History, the likelihood of a shark attack is 1 in 11.5 million. The likelihood of a fatality is less than 1 in 264 million. http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/Sharks/Statistics/beachattacks.htm To put it in perspective, in North Carolina you would be 193 times more likely to die from a lightning strike than a shark attack.
Though chance encounters with sharks are highly unlikely, there are precautions you can take when swimming in the ocean:
- Sharks actually try to avoid humans, but if you’re in murky water they may not see you. Use extra caution.
- Leave shiny jewelry on shore – to a shark it may look like fish scales.
- Sharks see contrast particularly well so dark swimsuits are preferable to bright colored clothing.
- Remember that you’re sharing the water with fish that attract sharks and other predators. Avoid swimming in the early morning, at dusk and at night when fish and sharks are feeding.
- Avoid swimming between islands, and within 300 feet of surfers, piers, fishermen and where seagulls or other birds are diving and feeding.
- Use caution around sandbars with steep drop-offs toward the ocean.
- Avoid swimming alone, especially far from shore in deeper waters.
- Avoid swimming if bleeding because a shark's sense of smell is highly sensitive.
- Don't fish while standing more than knee deep in the surf.
- Do not harass a shark - even nurse sharks can bite.
- Do not enter water if sharks are around and calmly evacuate the water if any sharks are seen.
For the complete brochure on Shark Sense, click here: http://ncseagrant.ncsu.edu/ncseagrant_docs/products/2000s/shark_sense.pdf
Boating safety is a serious priority in North Carolina. Operating watercraft is both fun and safe when you observe the rules. For regulations and rules to be aware of when you bring your boat to our waters, please follow this link to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s boating regulations: http://www.ncwildlife.org/Boating/LawsSafety/BoatingRegulations.aspx
Public boating access areas and marinas are available throughout Brunswick Islands. If you’re planning to rent a fishing or pleasure boat or personal watercraft, our outfitters will include a safety course and checklist.
By educating yourself, your friends and family about ocean safety, you can ensure that everyone has a great vacation and can’t wait to return again soon!