We shouldn't be fatalisticSummer drowning season is upon us but we shouldn't be fatalistic. Maybe this can be one of those good years when we don't lose anybody on the beaches of Clatsop and Pacific counties.
We have rip currents and water cold enough to shock the breath out the unsuspecting. Deaths and close-calls are frequent enough to acquire an air of inevitability. And yet experience indicates that public education campaigns coupled with beach patrols and rapid response to incidents can have a substantial impact on mortality.
This is no small matter. Around the nation, about 100 panicked swimmers per year are pulled to their deaths by rip currents, which are shrouded in often-inaccurate folk impressions that contribute to their danger. Only heat, which kills an average of 237 Americans a year, is a more lethal natural hazard, The New York Times recently reported. Shark attacks kill fewer than one American per year.
Rip currents tend to be stronger when waves are higher and when the tide is lower, but they are not particularly related to whether the tide is coming in or going out. Rips can persist in one location, but they often shift around depending upon changes in the shape of the bottom, water speed and wave characteristics.
This all makes them difficult to predict or study. Rip channels form in connection with submerged sandbars and can migrate as much as 60 feet a day, bouncing along the beach.
There is, however, plenty of helpful advice for minimizing the risk of drowning. Be sure to warn your summer guests and provide them with the knowledge they need to survive. On the Web, excellent information is located at:
Here are some things to remember:
Never go into the ocean alone. On our wild beaches, don't go more than knee-deep into the surf unless you are very confident swimmer.
Keep an eye on the ocean for sneaker waves, and stay off any logs or driftwood, which can turn over in the surf and crush the unsuspecting.
Be cautious at all times, especially when swimming at unguarded beaches. If in doubt, don't go out.
Pay especially close attention to children and elderly when at the beach. Even in shallow water, wave action can cause loss of footing.
If caught in a rip current:
Remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
Never fight against the current.
Think of it like a treadmill that cannot be turned off, which you need to step to the side of.
Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim at an angle - away from the current - towards shore.
If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water. When out of the current, swim towards shore.
If you are still unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself by waving your arm and yelling for help. If you see someone in trouble, don't become a victim too:
Have someone call 9-1-1.
Throw the rip current victim something that floats - a lifejacket, a cooler, an inflatable ball.
Remember, many people drown while trying to save someone else from a rip current.