Ocean City Today

Coast Guard rescues one, pulls three from stormy water

Ocean City Beach Patrol follows protocol for Sun. rescue, calls for back-up
By Brian Gilliland | Aug 03, 2017
Photo by: Submitted photo A previous training exercise conducted by the Coast Guard and the Beach Patrol for inlet rescues.

(Aug. 4, 2017) Although three people were in the water, only one technically needed rescuing by the Coast Guard on Sunday afternoon, since two of them were Ocean City Beach Patrol members following established protocol.

They were helping an unidentified swimmer who was swept into the inlet from the surf after he had been advised to remain on the beach.

“In this case, alcohol was a contributing factor, and the victim was warned by Surf Rescue Technicians not to enter the water, but decided not only to enter the water but swim directly into a rip current,” Beach Patrol Capt. Butch Arbin said.

Rip currents are strong, narrow currents that pull people away from the beach and out into the ocean. Swimming against a rip current (rather than parallel to the beach and into calmer waters) can tire victims and untrained would-be rescuers to the point of drowning.

Before this week, the last drowning deaths in Ocean City relating to rip currents occurred in 2014.

Arbin said the ocean currents off the beach normally flow from the south to the north, but occasionally, like this past weekend, storm or other activity can reverse that flow.

With that south-to-north movement, swimmers who need assistance at the southern end of the beach would be carried north and away from obstructions such as the pier, the inlet and its jetties.

The opposite occurred on Sunday, which is why the Beach Patrol also trains for that possibility, Arbin said.

The patrol has established a demarcation line in this area, beyond which rescuers and victims are to swim and remain while calling the Coast Guard for pickup.

The Sunday swimmer, Arbin said, was approaching the danger zone near the inlet and was signaled to return.

“Our protocol for near-inlet rescues is to take the victim safely around the north jetty to avoid injury to the victim and our personnel,” Arbin explained. “The SRT who initiates the rescue takes care of the victim by keeping them afloat and calm. The second SRT has the responsibility to watch out for boat traffic and hold the buoy overhead and use their whistle to warn other boats.”

If it sounds like a practiced policy, it’s because it is.

“We train for this with the Coast Guard and the Natural Resources Police. As soon as it’s an inlet rescue, we call in the Coast Guard because it can be dangerous,” Arbin said. “Every guard trains for this scenario.”

Once the call is made, there is little for the guards and the person they are helping to do but wait.

“My team can swim,” Arbin said. “They were fine.”

The Coast Guard pulled the three from the water, but only one was rescued, Arbin said.

“When my guards see it reported on social media and other places that they needed to be rescued, they get upset,” Arbin said. “They did what they were supposed to do.”

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