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South Shore officials focus on swimmer safety, rip current dangers

A lifeguard scans the water in Atlantic Beach

A lifeguard scans the water in Atlantic Beach on June 2. Credit: Johnny Milano

Nassau's South Shore lifeguards and first responders are taking extra precautions toward swimmer safety as the July Fourth holiday week kicks off and after two bodies were recently found in the waters off Long Beach.

The bodies of a man and a child were found separately last month in the waters off Long Beach. Officials have not released their identities or confirmed if they were two missing swimmers: Neil Gibbons, 30, visiting from Ireland, and a 10-year-old Hempstead boy. 

Atlantic Beach Rescue officials launched a swimmer safety education campaign after the Long Beach drownings. They have posted signs at entrances to the village's beaches, teamed up with local lifeguards and sent out emails to residents explaining the dangers of rip currents. They are also working with the private beach clubs to promote swimmer safety. 

"Awareness is a good way to start," Atlantic Beach Mayor George Pappas said.

Rip currents are "powerful, narrow channels of fast-moving water," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Swimmers who get caught in rip currents should not fight the water by trying to swim straight back to the beach because they can get easily fatigued and drown, officials say. They must swim parallel to shore and then swim back to land at an angle.

While Atlantic Beach Rescue trains for water rescues year-round, officials said the village population swells during the summer months with visitors who may not be familiar with the ocean's risks. 

"We've got to bring our A-game during the summer," Atlantic Beach Rescue Assistant Chief Jonathan Kohan said. "There's no margin for error."

Atlantic Beach chief lifeguard Stephen Morgenlander said the village's three dozen lifeguards take a proactive approach to policing the waters and talk about the current conditions with beachgoers.

"We've got to be vigilant," said Hempstead Town Councilman Bruce Blakeman, who represents Atlantic Beach.

The town has also worked on swimmer safety education before July Fourth visitors flood the South Shore beaches. Supervisor Laura Gillen on Saturday provided tips on safe swimming during a news conference at Town Park at Point Lookout Beach.

The town employs 165 lifeguards for its beaches, according to town aquatic coordinator Justine Anderson. Last weekend alone they rescued more than 200 people.

"Safety is our No. 1 priority," she said.

Brian Guerin, chief of the Point Lookout-Lido Fire Department, said despite officials' efforts to warn people that after-hours swimming is prohibited, they don’t always heed the precautions. 

“As a beach community, it’s always on our minds. It’s year-round for us,” Guerin said. “You put out warnings, you try to educate people but it [a swimming fatality] has happened and it does happen.” 

Wednesday’s rip current forecast is moderate, according to Joe Pollina of the National Weather Service in Upton.

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