Lifeguards warn of rip currents during Memorial Day weekend

Jacksonville Beach Ocean Rescue expecting thousands of beachgoers this weekend

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – The National Weather Service has issued a warning to beachgoers that rip currents will be an issue during Memorial Day weekend.

Yellow flags were flying on the coast Thursday, but lifeguards raised the red flags, Friday which mean high hazard.

Jacksonville Beach Ocean Rescue said wind and waves had started to pick up on Friday, and the conditions are only going to get worse and more dangerous over the weekend with the tropical system off in the Atlantic Ocean.

"We're expecting rough conditions," Jacksonville Beach Ocean Rescue Capt. Rob Emahiser said. "Potentially strong rip currents and wind, so we will be ready for a lot of prevention and possibly rescue."

Last Memorial Day, lifeguards said 10 people had to be rescued at Jacksonville Beach. 

Emahiser explained how beachgoers can stay safe.

“Always swim near a lifeguard. That is very important. When the surf is rough and there are bigger crowds, that is going to put a hard job on our guards. But they are all well trained and ready for the weekend. So as long as everybody doesn't overdo it, and don't swim beyond your abilities,” Emahiser said.

Lifeguards said they’re expecting tens of thousands of people at the beach for Memorial Day weekend, so they’re urging people to be careful. Emahiser said they know people want to have a good time, but they said don't go out too far and don't get in the water after drinking. 

"You'll hear the guys whistle a lot and see them do a lot of non-verbal communication. The best advice is to pay attention to that whistle. Their job is to keep you safe and keep you in a safe place," Emahiser said. 

Emahiser said even though they won't have as large of staff this weekend as they will this summer, there will still be enough lifeguards to cover the area. There will up to 40 Ocean Rescue staff members working this weekend. 

"They generally know the feel of this place. And I see them going around every so often, so I feel like there should be enough."

He also urged parents to keep a close eye not only their children, but other adults who may go out a little too far.

"A lot of times, people may think, 'I was a swimmer in high school' or something like that. If you're 20 years removed from high school, you may not be that good (a) swimmer anymore."

Emahiser reiterated that even skilled swimmers should never underestimate rip currents.

With the red flags flying Friday, many people stayed close to the shore instead of heading out a little farther like they would in calm conditions.

"I feel like most parents, if they have kids, are watching them now. Other than that, it seems like the people in the water are experienced swimmers," beachgoer Diego Zarate said. 

News4Jax also spoke with other beachgoers, who said they are aware of the dangers, and they will be swimming close to lifeguards.

“You have to be real careful, because with rip currents, you don't know when it is going to call you. So you need a lifeguard to be there,” Carl Russell said.

Stephanie Kistemaker said she also plans on being careful even though she’s a good swimmer.

“I always watch for the lifeguards, just in case,” Kistemaker said. “Even though I know how to swim well, I swim with a buddy.”

Lifeguards said if anyone is caught in a rip current, don’t panic, because that’s the worst thing to do. Instead, swim parallel to the shore to get out of the rip current, and after that, swim back if a lifeguard isn’t already there bring the person to safety.

"If a current is taking you away from shore, the main thing is to stay calm and realize that you can float. (If) you've been pulled along, calm down and then swim parallel to the shore and then after you get out of that current, swim diagonally back to shore," Emahiser said.

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