Think before you leap into a Lowcountry river

info@islandpacket.comJune 5, 2013 

"R.I.P. Bubba 5-27-13" was written on the Wimbee Boat Landing welcome sign as a memorial to Steven Wright Jr. who drowned on that date while swimming in Wimbee Creek.

DELAYNA EARLEY — Staff photo Buy Photo

With two drownings and one near-drowning in Beaufort County rivers already this season, it's time to regroup and think about safety.

Life in the river is a soothing part of the Lowcountry's charm. But those same rivers and creeks demand a high level of respect and many survival skills.

First things first: Don't drink and swim. It's against the law to drink and drive a car or a boat, but it also can be fatal to drink and swim. It impairs judgment, making it seem like a good idea to jump into a fast-moving river at midnight under a seductive Carolina moon. But in the Lowcountry, friends must not let friends do that. More than half of all people who drown had consumed alcohol before their accident, according to the Beaufort County Fire Chiefs Association Safety Education Team.

Survival in the river also requires careful study of wind, weather and tides.

Start by paying attention to any rules and posted signs. Also seek weather advisories that include warnings of rip currents, available through the National Weather Service or televised weather reports.

Know what you are up against. Vast amounts of water pump in and out through Beaufort County's tidal rivers all day every day. The difference in water level between high tide and low tide in this area is extraordinary, and understanding what that means can spell the difference between life and death.

The outgoing tide is stronger than the incoming tide. And if the moon is full and the tides are higher than normal, more water will be roaring out of the creeks and rivers. Beyond that, if an easterly wind pushes more water in, or holds up the outgoing tide for a while, water will come gushing out at even greater -- and more dangerous -- speeds.

Ask an old salt for swimming advice under these conditions and the answer is quick and to the point: "Don't do it."

Do not count on your swimming skills to survive. Even the strongest swimmers are like floating reeds when going against the force of rushing water.

"If you are swimming at a depth beyond what you can stand in, a life jacket or a flotation device should be used," said Sgt. Michael Paul Thomas of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

Lowcountry swimmers also need to know how to react to a rip current or strong tide pulling them from shore. Don't panic. Never swim against it. Do not try to return to where you jumped in, but swim with the tide, angling all the time to a point on land well ahead of you.

Never swim alone.

In the case of thunder and lightning, get out of the water immediately.

Tips like these were passed out at public boat landings during the Memorial Day Weekend by firefighters from every department in the county.

Capt. John Robinson of the Beaufort-Port Royal Fire Department urges people to get informed, spread the word and support the volunteers who help the local public safety agencies, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Coast Guard save lives on the water.

Volunteer marine rescue squadrons are at work in Beaufort and Bluffton and on Fripp Island. Other volunteer agencies focus on boating safety. They all need financial support and volunteer help.

But before you need to call for help, take time to think before you dive into a beautiful Lowcountry river.

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