Rip current tragedies can be preventable, says Nova Scotia Lifeguard Service

Nova Scotia has a short ocean swimming season and many people are ignorant about the dangers that can happen in or near the water.

Lifeguard service says education and awareness is key to water safety

Broad Cove beach, where Michelle Curtis died Monday trying to save several children from a riptide. (CBC)

The Nova Scotia Lifeguard Service says the province's short ocean swimming season means people need to be especially aware of the dangers that can happen in or near the water. 

"In Nova Scotia, we have a very short season that people are willing to go in the ocean here — and we have a shorter season of supervision," said Craig Reesor, the Nova Scotia Lifeguard Service area supervisor for the Eastern Shore.

"Because of the ignorant population as to what the dangers of the ocean are, we certainly have people getting in over their heads."

For example, he said, if you get in a rip current, do not try to swim against it because you can't beat it. 

"The best thing to do is to stay calm, roll on your back, get attention," Reesor said, adding that swimming parallel or at a 45-degree angle to the shore can help. "Eventually, you'll find the edge of the rip and get pushed back to shore."

The Nova Scotia Lifeguard Service also offers these tips:

  • Don't panic.
  • Poor/tired swimmers should swim parallel to shore approximately 30 metres, then return to shore.
  • Strong swimmers should swim at a 45-degree angle across the rip in the same direction as the side/lateral current.
  • If the current is too strong for you and you require assistance from a lifeguard, raise one of your arms straight, above the water.

Reesor says people should only swim between the yellow and red flags at the province's supervised beaches, where there are no rip tides.

He said rip currents can happen at any beach, when the water from the waves goes back out to sea and some are stronger than others.

People often overestimate their abilities in rescue situations, when emotions are running high, he added.

And while you may be familiar with the conditions at one beach, beaches across the province are different.

"If you've been swimming at Queensland and you're comfortable at Queensland, going to Lawrencetown — Lawrencetown is more exposed, there are more waves — and you might not be comfortable at Lawrencetown," he said.

If someone is in distress and there is no lifeguard, Reesor advised calling 911. Pass the person something to hold on to and tell them to kick to shore," he said.

On Monday, 45-year-old Michelle Curtis died after rescuing children caught in a rip current at a beach near Broad Cove in Cape Breton.