Wandering children can divert lifeguards' attention away from water

4 children couldn't find their guardians over the weekend in Jacksonville Beach

By Erik Avanier - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. - There's a safety alert in Jacksonville Beach, where lifeguards say they are dealing with an increased amount of wandering children. 

Over the weekend, there were four children who couldn’t find their guardians. Two were reported missing during a 45-minute time span while lifeguards were trying to watch people in the water and administer first aid to someone.

Now that schools are out for summer break, more families are hitting the beach, which means lifeguards are monitoring more people in the water. But it’s on the sand where lifeguards said they are having to divert some of their attention because of children who wander off and are eventually reported missing. 

Jacksonville Beach lifeguards said it has become a growing problem.

"It’s probably one of our most frequent if not the most frequent emergency that we deal with," Capt. Rob Emahiser, with Jacksonville Beach Ocean Rescue, told News4Jax on Monday.

And lifeguards aren’t the only people who have noticed the problem.

“(There's) kids just wandering everywhere," beachgoer Briana Howard said.

Howard said she brings her niece to the beach all the time and keeps her niece in her sights, but other beachgoers are seemingly not as watchful. 

“Sometimes I see kids walking up and down the beach and sometimes they are already in the water," Howard said.

Emahiser said the more crowded the beach, the easier it is for parents to lose sight of their child, especially when only one parent or adult is keeping watch. That's why he suggests more than one adult should accompany children. 

“If you assign a responsible adult -- one person -- it’s your job to watch the kids for 10 minutes or a half an hour, and then you switch out," Emahiser said.

When children wander off, there’s always a chance they could run into someone with bad intentions. Fortunately, Emahiser said, there have not been any kidnappings.

“We’re blessed that hasn’t happened yet," he said. "That’s certainly a fear that’s there for every parent.”

Lifeguards are watching your children when they are in the water and they’re trained to spot a child on the beach and determine whether the child is lost. But Emahiser asked parents and guardians to remember that "it's just not possible for us to watch everybody’s kids and differentiate whose kid is what.”

If you have a small child who doesn’t know his or her last name, or is too young to know your phone number, you can always stop at the lifeguard office and have one of the lifeguards put a wristband on your child’s wrist, which will have his or her name and your contact information.

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