Fatalities on the rise at unguarded beaches

Changes in the ocean have recently increased the risk of rip currents bringing a new problem to Brevard County beaches: increased fatalities.

“In 2021 we have had eight unguarded fatalities,” Brevard County Fire Rescue Chief of Ocean Rescue Eisen Witcher said. “We were able to assist 50,000 preventative rescues.”

Though there has been an increased number of fatalities this year, cases of rip-related rescues have decreased since last year.

“Last year we had 543 rip-related rescues, but had no drowning fatalities,” Witcher said. “In 2021 we have had to date only 400 rip related rescues yet had the eight unguarded fatalities.”

The sudden change revolves around the lack of guarded beaches.

“Statistics gathered by the United States Lifesaving Association indicate that the chance of drowning at an unguarded beach is nearly five times the risk of drowning at a USLA guarded beach,” Witcher said.

Different conditions may affect the currents including the widespread changes of climate.

“Conditions vary from year to year based on population, water experience and knowledge, ocean conditions and weather,” Witcher said. “That being said, we all know that all these factors can vary greatly each year.”

Brevard County Fire Rescue asks to be mindful when in contact with a rip current to ensure everyone’s safety when at the beach.

“Biggest thing to remember is to relax, rip currents don’t pull you under,” Witcher said. “You may be able to escape by swimming out of the current in a direction following the shoreline, or toward breaking waves, then at an angle toward the beach.”

By Brooke Bergman