No drownings at LI beaches this season

People brave the rough surf at Jones Beach

People brave the rough surf at Jones Beach late Saturday afternoon, as expected storms approach. (Sept. 08, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/Danielle Finkelstein)

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No drownings were reported at Long Island ocean and sound beaches from Memorial Day through Labor Day for the first time in at least five years, statistics show.

Last year, seven people were confirmed to have drowned along the Long Island shorefront -- the most in the five years that Newsday examined. In 2009, three people died.

People who drowned in pools and other inland bodies of water, died from some other ailment while in the water, or fell off watercraft and perished are not included. Also, some deaths could be deemed drownings pending further investigation, officials said.

The drowning figures came from New York State and Suffolk and Nassau counties.

Lifeguards credited water conditions for this season's good news. There was "little to no surf" this summer, and "when there's surf, there's riptides and when there's riptides, there's drownings," said Steven Agostinacchio, state parks lifeguard coordinator for the Long Island region.

Lateral currents this summer tended to move from west to east, instead of east to west when water flows faster and causes rip currents, said Tom Daly, Long Beach lifeguard supervisor.

Paul Gillespie, chief of lifeguards in Long Beach, said that on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being bad, this summer was a 6, with water conditions that were "more conducive for swimming" but "not great for surfers."

Rescues are down as well. At Long Island state park beaches, there were 2,767 from Memorial Day weekend through Sept. 7 -- 864 of them at Jones Beach and 1,701 at Robert Moses, according to state parks figures. In 2011, there were 3,435 for the season.

George Gorman, Long Island deputy regional director for state parks, said drownings are rare in guarded areas. They "usually occur in areas where no lifeguards are on duty," he said.

"We don't lose many people," Agostinacchio said.

The last drowning at a designated swimming area -- meaning lifeguards are on duty -- at a Long Island state park beach was on July 13, 1995, when a man from Flushing, Queens, drowned while swimming near the Central Mall at Jones Beach State Park, he said.

There was one drowning in 2011 in an unguarded area, marked with red and green flags and "no bathing" signs, he said. There was one drowning each in 2009 and 2010, and none in 2008, he said.

Long Island's good news contrasts with what is going on elsewhere. Along the New Jersey shore, for example, there were five drownings this year as of mid-July, according to news reports.

Nationally, there were an average of 3,533 fatal unintentional drownings annually from 2005 to 2009 -- about 10 deaths per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those statistics, however, also include drownings on rivers, lakes and other inland waters.

Along with good swimming conditions, the key to preventing drownings is being alert, lifeguards and officials say.

Jones Beach lifeguard Ed Peters, 70, said Friday that his whistle is his most important piece of equipment.

"You see what's going to happen," said Peters, of Syosset. "You can predict it, and you can prevent it with the whistle."

Jones Beach visitor Mike Salve, 44, of Manhattan, said Friday that with the rough water from Tropical Storm Leslie, lifeguards "were whistling nonstop for people to swim between the flags or closer to the shore. You could see that they were being proactive."

Said Daly: "It's a good year when everyone goes home."

With Lauren Harrison

BY THE NUMBERS

The number of shorefront drownings on Long Island annually from Memorial Day to Labor Day:

2008: 5

2009: 3

2010: 6

2011: 7

2012: 0

Note: A determination on the cause of death of an Oyster Bay Cove woman, whose fully clothed body was found off a private Cove Neck beach in July, has not yet been released by Nassau County police.

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