County video teaches how to behave if caught in rip current

cnudi@bradenton.comAugust 6, 2013 

MANATEE -- Rip currents take the lives of around 100 people a year, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

With that in mind, Manatee County produced a short video on how to be safe when swimming in the Gulf of Mexico when rip currents may be present.

"We saw this as a cost-effective way to raise the awareness of the dangers of rip currents on Manatee County beaches," said Nick Azzara, county information coordinator.

Melissa Matisko, a video journalist in Azzara's office, used her reporter instincts to produce a 3 minute and 30 second video.

"If people see a video is two, three minutes long they would be more inclined to click on it," Azzara said. "A lot of time they don't have 30 minutes to devote to a subject."

This video has become more relevant after two young children drowned in the Gulf off Anna Maria Island this year after being pulled out by rip currents.

Capt. Joe Westerman, head of the county Marine Rescue Division and who has a prominent role in the video, said it is important to teach the public about water safety.

"Rip currents can always be dangerous," Westerman said. "It depends on your swimming abilities and your age."

He said many people panic and fight the outward pull of the current, tire and then become too exhausted to stay afloat.

Westerman, a lifeguard in Manatee County for 25 years, said he has pulled several people out of the water who were caught in rip currents.

"They're usually under stress," he said. "Depending on the condition, they're at many levels of anxiety."

Rip currents are not always visible from the beach, but the lifeguards can detect surf conditions and post warning flags on the lifeguard towers.

A single red flag indicates high surf and/or strong currents. Swimmers should use extreme caution when entering the water.

Mote Marine Laboratories in Sarasota also posts rip current presence on its beach conditions website at coolgate.mote.org/beachconditions/

The website was established in Sarasota County in 2006 and expanded into Manatee County in 2007, according the Kate Kohler, a staff scientist at Mote.

"It originally started to help people decide what was the best beach to go to when red tide is present," Kohler said. "Then we quickly found people wanted more information."

Westerman and his fellow lifeguards also are taking the beach safety message to the public, giving presentations to several groups and organizations.

To view the video, go to mymanatee.org/beachsafety/

or watch it here:

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