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Crowds keeping Sarasota County’s lifeguards on their toes

Published: Jul. 28, 2021 at 4:05 PM EDT
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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - More people have been flocking to Sarasota County beaches this year, and that’s keeping the county’s lifeguard corps busy.

Since the first of the year, Sarasota County lifeguards have made 117 water rescues -- more than the 108 rescues in 2019, and closing in on the 2020 total of 178, according to county officials.

Sarasota Lifeguard Capt. Roy Routh says numbers reflect the increased traffic at the beaches.

“We’re seeing more people come to the beaches than ever before. With more people, we have more incidents, whether it’s lost children, rescues, interactions with the public,” he told ABC7.

Sarasota County lifeguards are located at six beaches: Lido Key, Siesta Key, Nokomis, North Jetty, Venice and Manasota.

Lifeguards are on duty from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and are in their stands between 10 a.m. and 4:45 p.m.

Swimming in other, unprotected areas can be risky. On July 23, county rescue boats were summoned to South Lido Beach, after five swimmers -- four of them teenagers -- were caught in an outgoing tide into New Pass and swept a few hundred yards offshore.

Tyler Olivencia, from Lehigh Acres, was one of those swimmers. “The wave currents kept taking us further and further and further... until we were stranded. We were yelling for help,” he told ABC7.

His friend, Jimmy Gonzales, was in the water, too. “My dad tried to save me,” he said. “At some point, my dad was starting to drown really bad and it freaked me out. I didn’t think he was going to make it.”

Fortunately, no one died in that incident. But Routh says it illustrates how dangerous that area can be.

“I would never advise anyone to swim near a pass, whether it’s incoming or outgoing currents -- they can really affect swimmers,” he said. “There was an outgoing current that day that made it very difficult for them to work their way back to shore,” he said.

“It’s not compatible with swimming at all, between the currents, the tides, and the boat traffic.”

Routh said inexperience with open water also contributes to the recent numbers. “I think a lot of our swimmers are non-native to Florida -- a lot of them are from out of state and not used to being in the open water.”

At guarded beaches, lifeguards can provide important information, from the colored flag system that grades water conditions to special advisories, such as the presence of jellyfish or stingrays.

But even on the calmest of days, Routh said healthy respect for the environment is always a good idea.

“If you look at a green flag, it doesn’t mean ‘safe,’ it just means low hazard. You’re stepping into a marine environment, it’s not a clear swimming pool that we control,” Routh said.

Beach Swimming Safety Tips:

  • Always try to swim in lifeguard-protected areas.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Check the swimming condition flag before entering the water.
  • Don’t overestimate your swimming ability.
  • Never depend on a flotation device for safety.
  • Swim parallel to the shore.
  • Stay off and away from swim buoys.
  • Keep a safe distance from rock jetties.
  • Never dive headfirst when entering the water.
  • Duck under breaking waves.
  • If you are in trouble, call and wave for help.

Source: Sarasota County

Editor’s note: The original photo used in this article has been replaced.

Swimming in unguarded areas is risky.
Swimming in unguarded areas is risky.(WWSB-TV)

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