SATELLITE BEACH, Fla. — A call for increased safety precautions is being stressed by Brevard County Ocean Rescue going into the weekend after more than 150 people had to be rescued from the Atlantic Ocean in the weeks since Thanksgiving.
Three of those rescues happened on Friday alone, officials said.
BCOR Chief Eisen Witcher held a press conference on Thursday to call attention to the alarming trend, which he said was brought about in part due to the impacts of Hurricane Ian, Hurricane Nicole and ongoing disturbances in the Atlantic.
He said normally they will see between 400 to 450 rescues over the course of a calendar year. So, seeing more than a quarter of that in just a two-week span was alarming for him and other county officials.
“Typically, when you have any kind of rip current, you have that sudden outflow and sandbars to the left and to the right of you,” Witcher said. “Those sandbars have been weakened so much, and the in-shore holes are so deep, that people aren’t able to stand up on their own and that’s where they get into trouble.”
Witcher said all of the tropical activity has not allowed enough time for the ocean to rebuild its sandbars and to fill the holes.
That’s why BCOR officials decided to extend the service of their seasonal lifeguards indefinitely to allow more time for the sandbars to replenish. They currently have two lifeguards at each beach with a mobile patrol that travels between towers.
Witcher said they may move to three or four lifeguards at a beach, but that depends on the day and the water conditions. They will also continue flying the single red flag along many beaches, which indicates dangerous swimming conditions.
Not only is the department trying to reduce the number of water rescues that they are responding to, but also the drownings — officials said that within the span of a week, a 17-year-old and two people in the their 50s drowned along the shores of Brevard County.
Witcher said those three were swimming outside of areas where there are lifeguards. He said while ocean conditions are so precarious, he recommends against that.
On Friday, lifeguards were actively warning swimmers who swam too far from shore.
"They've done stuff like this on snow, but not on water," said Mara Gower, of Utah, as she watched her three children during a surf lesson.
She was also on high alert, watching the water in case the rip currents become an issue for her children.
"They said they would stay close to shore, so we should be OK," Gower said.
Brevard Ocean Rescue Assistant Chief Derek Swor said that if a swimmer is caught in a rip current, it is important not to panic.
"Make the best decision to get back to shore without fighting the rip current directly," he said.
Right now, BCOR is in the hiring process for the 2023 season and will begin training early in the year. Witcher said beachgoers need to be cautious, especially heading into the weekend.
“As we’re coming into the weekend, we want to make sure that people are making good decisions,” Witcher said. “Come out to a life-guarded beach, check out the conditions and most importantly, when in doubt, don’t go out.”