As Long Islanders flocked to beaches under blue skies Wednesday, state and local officials warned bathers and parents to take precautions to prevent tragedies in the water.
“We need to remind all New Yorkers to exercise caution and to be vigilant and to safeguard our children's safety,” New York Secretary of State Robert Rodriguez said at news conference at Jones Beach. “Children are fast and are mesmerized by the water and the adventure of being by the ocean and playing in the waves," he said. "Parents and guardians have to be alert at all times.”
Rodriguez said that when parents take their children to the water they should designate a watcher to supervise kids at all times.
“This person should not be reading, texting, using a smartphone, drinking or eating or otherwise being distracted while being with children in this environment,” Rodriguez said.
Drowning is a leading cause of death among children, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which reports that drowning is second only to birth defects as a cause of death among children ages 1 to 4.
Every day an average of 11 people die from drowning and 22 suffer from nonfatal drowning nationwide, according to the CDC.
The CDC warns that nonfatal drowning injuries can cause brain damage and long-term disabilities.
Swimming lessons, often offered for free or at low cost at municipal pools, can teach children basic swimming skills like treading water, which could save their lives, Rodriguez said.
Other safety tips include swimming only in areas supervised by a lifeguard and not swimming at night. A color coded flag system — green means its OK to swim, yellow means OK for surfers or there's an alert, and red means stay out of the water — is designed to protect people from dangerous conditions like rip currents that can pull swimmers away from the beach. Swimmers caught in rip currents are advised to not panic but to swim parallel to beach until they get out of the rip current and can go back ashore.
“We have heard of too many tragedies where there are unmanned bodies of water without lifeguards and people decide that that's an opportunity to take a swim,” Rodriquez said.
The parks department now deploys drones in the event of shark sightings, with drones flying above Jones, Robert Moses and Hither Hills beaches, George Gorman, Long Island regional director of state parks, said.
“Everybody's been aware that there's been a lot of activity with regard to sharks sightings,” Gorman said. If a shark is sighted, the beach will be cleared. “Those drones will get up in the air, will look and make sure that you are safe. And if there is a dangerous marine life out there, we will clear the water and only reopen for swimming when it is safe."
The state raised pay for lifeguard with hourly wages rising to $22 from $18.50 on Long Island to attract more applicants. Gorman said the lifeguard positions are fully staffed but their pool of reserve lifeguards has shrunk as fewer people applied for the summer jobs.