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Cape Town - The City is planning to erect signs warning beachgoers of dangerous rip currents in the wake of the drownings at Camps Bay and Melkbosstrand in the past week.
The NSRI’s WaterWise Academy reported last week that between September 23 and 30, its teams responded to five people trapped in rips.
Two survived, both young East London adults, but the bodies of the two teenagers are still missing at Camps Bay. On Monday afternoon, Tyreeq Fortuin, 7, from Atlantis, drowned while swimming with his friends at Melkbosstrand on the last day of the school holidays.
Rhine Barnes, station commander of NSRI Melkbosstrand, said the child had drowned in a rip current.
The city announced on Tuesday that lifeguards would be back on duty at 25 beaches this weekend after an agreement was reached with Lifesaving WP on Monday, although a formal contract is yet to be signed.
Several lifesaving experts, who asked not to be named, said signage was crucial to educate people about where to swim and natural dangers such as rip currents.
At some beaches, such as Kogel Bay, failure to identify and deal with rips have led to numerous drownings.
The city is studying best international practice around how to educate beachgoers about rip currents and signs are due to be erected before the summer holidays - as the normal tender regulations still have to be followed.
The NSRI explained that contrary to myth rip currents are not an “undertow”, as they do not pull swimmers underwater. Instead, swimmers drown while trying to fight against the currents, becoming exhausted.
Armed with the ability to identify rip currents, and the education on what to do when caught in them, many drownings could be avoided, the NSRI said.
“Rip currents are able to develop anywhere that there are breaking waves, these ‘rivers’ of current produced by water draining from the beach and back out to sea happen all the time,” said the NSRI’s Andrew Ingram.
“Often rip currents move slowly enough to barely be detected. But given the right circumstances of waves and beach profile, they can develop into currents moving at speeds of up to 2m a second - faster than any of us can swim. Ranging in size from just a few metres to hundreds of metres, their pull can be just outside the breaking waves to over 200m from shore.
“As with all risks, avoiding rips altogether is safest. Rip currents are not always visually detectable but stronger rip currents give some telltale signs,” Ingram said. These included:
* Water through a surf zone that is a different colour than the surrounding water.
* A break in the incoming pattern of waves.
* Seaweed or debris moving out through the surf zone.
* Isolated turbulent and choppy water in the surf zone.
“If you are caught in a rip current the most important thing to do is to stay calm and relax. You are not going to win a fight with the ocean.
“Swim slowly and conservatively parallel to the shoreline or relax and let it carry you out past the breakers until it slackens,” Ingram explained.
“As long as you can tread water or float you will be safe until you can escape the flow and head back to the beach. When you head back in, do so at an angle to the shoreline. Maintain a slow and relaxed pace until you reach the shore or assistance arrives.”
Ingram advised beachgoers to swim only where lifeguards were on duty.