Yellow flags flying at Tybee due to rip current threat

TYBEE ISLAND, GA (WTOC) - Tybee Island Ocean Rescue crews saved 13 people from rip currents Monday.

Lifeguards were in and out of the water all day pulling people from the strong currents.

Ocean Rescue officials said the water was calmer Tuesday than it was Monday, but flew yellow flags as a precaution. Because of the yellow flags, the Dawson family's trip to the beach started with a lesson on rip currents.

"I have a 9-year-old son," Chris Dawson "said. He can swim, but (he's) not the strongest of swimmers. So, with the yellow flags out showing a medium wave, rip current type atmosphere, I told him don't swim against it. I told him to swim with the current toward the beach, and the ocean will naturally take him back to the beach."

While lifeguards can often spot rip current by their bubbles and color from their towers, Walker McDowell, second lieutenant of Tybee Island Ocean Rescue, said swimmers often don't realize they're in one until they're being pulled out to sea.

"They'll just kind of try to start coming into shore and struggle because they're not good enough swimmers to fight against it," he said. "They won't know what to do. So, they just fight it, and end up getting tired out."

With a swimmer exhausted, McDowell says getting swept away by the current can happen quickly.

"Like that," he said snapping his fingers. "Very fast."

That's why Dawson says education before wading into the water is so important.

"You get out here, (there are) so many people," Dawson said. "You (can) lose a child in the crowds. They're out in the ocean, the waves crashing one over the other, you could definitely lose sight pretty quickly, and if you haven't informed them to begin with, it's a little late."

McDowell said lifeguards try to prevent accidents by directing people away from visible rip currents, but said that only works if swimmers listen.

"There were a lot of instances (Monday) where they advised the same people four and five times, and, you know, they ended up not listening to them," McDowell said. "They ended up getting rescued or assisted or ended up on the rocks or on the pilings on the pier, so if they (lifeguards) are telling you to do something, it's for a reason."

On an average day, he said there are about 10 lifeguards staffed along the beach, but more staff is in place for large events or holidays, like the Fourth of July.

McDowell said lifeguards will often swim into the rip currents intentionally and use them to get to the victim faster. McDowell said swimmers are caught in a rip current, they should swim parallel to the beach, not with the current, to get out safety.

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