(CNN) – On Good Friday 2017, Wyatt Werneth got a call from his wife, who went grocery shopping with their daughter: The car broke down. Please rescue us
Werneth boarded his vehicle to assist, driven by Patrick’s Space Force Base near Cape Canaveral, Florida. From the A1A highway, Werneth said you could see the ocean.
What he saw next was a twist of fate that led to a more immediate rescue.
“I could see someone waving in traffic as I was leaving. … I pulled over to see what was going on; I had an immediate instinct that something was happening in the water,” Werneth told CNN Travel Remembered that.
“When I came to the berm, I had no idea what I was doing. There were many people in the water.”
And they were in trouble. Very serious trouble. Current kind of trouble rip.
The scene would send a chill of dread down anyone’s spine—but at least Werneth was ready. He is an experienced lifeguard instructor and had water rescue equipment.
But with at least five people struggling in a vicious Atlantic rip current, how will he save them all?
the figures are grim
There are an estimated 3,960 fatal unintentional drownings (including boating incidents) each year in the United States. That is, an average of 11 drowning deaths per day.
Crowds swell in the sea and sand of South Beach in Miami. Florida ranks fourth in the United States for drowning deaths per 100,000 people. It is important to understand how to enjoy open water safely.
lazylama / adobe stock
From 2015 to 2019, the states with the highest number of drownings per 100,000 people were:
And then there are many more non-fatal drownings. The CDC says that people who survive a drowning experience have many consequences: “from no injuries to very serious injuries or permanent disability.”
Experts say the tragedy is many of these deaths and injuries are preventable. What can you do to enjoy the water – be it the sea, river, lake or swimming pool – safely and not fall into the ranks of drowning? Turns out, a lot.
Who is most at risk?
Men jump into the waters of the Bosphorus on the Anatolian side, also known as the Asian side of Istanbul. Worldwide, men are at a higher risk of drowning than women.
Mo Joyari/Bloomberg/Getty Images
It is important to know who is more likely to drown. At-risk groups require the most attention. Some of them are in the United States:
• Minority Groups: The fatal drowning rate for American Indians or Alaska Natives is two times higher than for white people aged 29 and younger. The rate for black people is 1.5 times higher than for white people.
measures to prevent drowning
Kids get swimming lessons at the YMCA in Memphis, Tennessee. Research shows that the risk of drowning can be reduced by participating in formal swimming lessons.
Karen Pulfer Foch/The Commercial Appeal/AP
However, “children who have taken swimming lessons still require close and constant supervision in or around water,” the agency writes. Don’t be distracted by the TV, books or phone while watching children in the water.
If you are drinking alcoholic beverages, stay away from the water and do not go boating. Impaired judgment and slow response can lead to tragedy.
Boats and vulnerable swimmers, especially in open water, should wear life jackets.
And keep an eye on the weather. Go out in case of thunderstorms or heavy rain.
Know the water environment
People swim in the surf at Waimea Bay Beach Park on the north coast of Oahu, Hawaii, under warning flags. Experts say don’t underestimate the power of the waves, even if there is no official warning.
Caleb Jones / AP
Understand the water you are about to enter. Different water bodies present different types of hazards.
ocean rip currents
These currents flow away from the coast. They often break into sandbars and form close to piers and rock groins.
• Keep calm. Rip currents do not drag you under the water but carry you away from the shore.
• Don’t swim against the current. The USLA says try to avoid “by swimming out of the stream in one direction following the shoreline”. Maybe you can avoid floating or running water and get the current out.
• If you’re in trouble, shout and give a helping hand.
If you are not trained, don’t try to save people yourself. Look for a lifeguard, call 911 or throw a flotation device in their path. Instruct the person to swim parallel to the shoreline to escape.
Other Ocean Tips
Tubing and other activities are popular in the rivers. But strong currents and obstacles beneath the surface or debris can be dangerous.
Werneth said to research the river before entering.
Personal watercraft hug the shoreline at Blue Marsh Lake near Reading, Pennsylvania. In that case, you must have a boating safety education certificate in order to operate one. The US Coast Guard states that you should wear a torso-protecting life jacket when riding one. Also, don’t jump wake and don’t drink alcohol before the operation.
Ben Hasty/Media Newsgroup/Reading Eagle/Getty Images
lakes and ponds
And even if your kids know how to swim, adults should still keep close watch. Keep flotation devices on hand.
shortage of national lifeguards
A lifeguard watches visitors swim at Raging Waters Sacramento Water Park at Cal Expo in Sacramento, California. There is a shortage of guards this year, so be extra cautious.
David Paul Morris / Bloomberg / Getty Images
Werneth said the group’s message has always been “swimming in front of a lifeguard”. But he said the reality of the shortage is inspiring a new one: “Learn to swim, America.”
“We want people to be self-lifeguards. Assign someone in your family to watch the water. Have that person learn CPR.”
And if someone can’t swim and still wants to land, “Put a life jacket on them. It’ll make a difference.”
On that Florida beach back in 2017, Werneth’s job was tough. But he had a sober mind, decades of experience—and luckily, a second veteran assistant he learned later was from the Air Force.
“He was single-handedly pulling people out even before I got there. … The Air Force guy was kind of coming back. I saw he had one that was fainting, and I immediately jumped into the water. I jumped in. Swim out, caught the unconscious person and pulled him out.”
Werneth estimates they were about 50 yards away, and he recalls that he pulled five male juveniles out of the water. They weren’t even in swim attire, Werneth said, which made him think it was a moment’s decision to enter the ocean.
Would the group have died without defense, leaving it exhausted?
“I assure you that they will all be. … These people were going to help each other, and it caused a chain reaction. Don’t go into the water without a flotation device to help someone,” They said.
“It was the right time I showed up and was there to help those people.” All because the family car was broken into. But not everyone can rely on luck.
Lastly, you need to have “water confidence” gained from experience and respect for water.
“Fear is that which creates panic that breeds drowning.”