Manatee County’s July 4 weekend may have been marred by tragedy had not county lifeguard Chelsea K. Hart, 26, rescued a young boy caught in a rip current Saturday morning near the jetty on Coquina Beach.
The boy, thought to be about 10-years-old, whose name was not released by authorities, was riding on a boogie board near the jetty when Hart, who was in lifeguard stand No. 2 in the southern most part of Coquina Beach, noticed that waves were crashing the boy into the jetty and he couldn’t break free.
Hart scrambled from the 30-foot stand, drove a buggy to the water’s edge, then swam with a floatation device to meet the victim and pull him ashore.
“I saw the boy was moving backwards in the water, and he was caught in a rip,” said Hart, who is a U.S. Army veteran and has 11 years of experience as a lifeguard. “He was struggling. The water was over his head. He was trying to grab onto the jetty, which is covered in barnacles.”
A rip, or rip current, is a strong, narrow, current of water that is usually impossible to successfully swim against. Swimmers caught in a “rip” need to swim sideways to get out of the current, Hart said.
The boy, who did not take water into his lungs, was reunited with his mother, who thanked Hart profusely.
Nicknamed “Peep,” by her fellow lifeguards, Hart was humble about the rescue when asked on Sunday.
“It felt great to help him,” said Hart, who has had a handful of rescues in her career. “It’s always an adrenaline rush.”
Fellow lifeguard Marshall Greene said Hart is cool under pressure.
“She’s quick to get in the water and she’s an incredibly strong swimmer,” Greene said.
“She’s just on top of it,” said fellow lifeguard Dylan Means. “She’s very observant, quick on the radio, quick with her eyes and quick with her decisions.”
When told the news, Hart’s boyfriend, Bradenton’s Jimmy Compos, said, “That’s great, Babe.”
“Everyone calls me Peep, but Jimmy calls me Babe,” Hart said with a laugh.
For those who want to give her a thumb’s up on July 4, Hart will be stationed on Monday at lifeguard stand No. 1, at the northernmost point of Coquina Beach, near the construction project.
Hart offers these tips for Monday beach-goers on July 4.
“Come out early so you won’t be stuck in traffic. Keep hydrated all day with water. Eat some food. And you don’t have to put your blanket down near me to be safe. We have a great team of lifeguards both at Coquina and Manatee County Public Beach.”