2009-06-19 / Editorial/Opinion

Another Grim Reminder That Ocean Currents Are Dangerous

As if we needed another reminder that the ocean currents that are rife on Rockaway beaches are dangerous, a 35-yearold man is dead and a 24-year-old woman lies in critical condition at St. John's Episcopal Hospital because they did not obey the restrictions that keep people from swimming when there are no lifeguards on duty. They are not the first to die in the raging currents that rush westward under the Atlantic Beach Bridge, through Reynold's Channel (aka East Rockaway Inlet) and into the Atlantic Ocean. In early August of 2001, three young girls were wading in the ocean waters at Beach 17 Street when they were pulled out to sea by the strong rip currents that plague the area. In August of 2002, a 69- year-old St. Alban's grandfather was similarly pulled out to sea and lost. Rip currents plague other areas of Rockaway as well. At least 14 people have died on Rockaway's beaches in the past ten years. The great majority of those drowning events were as a result of the rip currents that travel westward along the peninsula. There are certain facts that are clear. First, none of those who drowned was from Rockaway. Local residents know of the danger that the ocean can bring, particularly in the late afternoon, when the current is running rough and due west. As with the latest drowning, the great majority of those who died did so when the lifeguards were not on duty. There is a great danger going into the ocean when no lifeguards are present. Even an extensive education campaign and signs printed in several languages have not made that clear to beachgoers, who think to beat the crowd by arriving early or staying late for one final swim. Next, while the recent drowning incidents did not involve alcohol, the Parks Department warns that mixing alcohol with a swift current is a prescription for disaster. Lastly, many of those who drown do not know how to swim but wander into the current in any case, sure in their belief that water-borne disasters are for others and not themselves. Unfortunately, there is not much that government can do to stop the disasters. One local joked that the city can put a fence along the beach and people would climb the fence to get to the water. No joke, it is probably true. People have to realize that the ocean is a dangerous weapon, not for those who have been drinking or do not know how to swim. Nobody should be in the water when lifeguards are off duty, and that includes the strongest swimmer. In fact, those are lessons for swimmers and boaters alike. The water surrounding Rockaway can be dangerous. It should be treated as such even by competent swimmers.

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