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Editorial: Take a flotation device with you

Another drowning. This time, it was a local man trying to save his girlfriend’s sons as low tide combined with wind to create a powerful rip near Kitty Hawk Pier.

There were no flags up July 19 when Kenny Gooch drowned. The beach wasn’t “lifeguarded,” because it was 8 p.m. The waves were pretty rough, but probably not “red-flag” rough. The ocean can be deceptive, though. And it is most certainly ruthless.

We’ve reported about the exhaustive efforts of local ocean rescue crews this month, working more than 100 rescues along the Outer Banks within about week’s time.

We haven’t reported as much on the dozens (if not more) good Samaritans and passersby who’ve risked their own lives to help strangers in trouble in the water during that same time frame. People like Stephen Howard, who saved a potential would-be good Samaritan from the waves at Kitty Hawk Pier, then rescued the 12-year-old boy. Exhausted and blacking out, he couldn’t go on to save Gooch – and he can’t stop thinking about it.

People like Robert Kissell, who was running a 5K in Nags Head  when he saw a mother and child struggling in the water and jumped in without a thought to help them.

And people like the anonymous surfer in the water near Avalon Pier in Kill Devil Hills  who saw a teenage boy and girl struggling against a rip current – the girl going under several times – and pulled each out.

So many lives at risk, and so many lives lost, because people just can’t seem to heed the warnings and know their limits. The new regional slogan “Love the beach, respect the ocean” doesn’t seem to be quite powerful enough. The daily texts from ocean rescue departments and the National Weather Service don’t seem to be getting through. The lighted signs on NC 12 as you enter Cape Hatteras National Seashore don’t seem to be working. The fact that eight people have now lost their lives this year hasn’t been a deterrent.

Maybe nothing will work. But there is one simple, easy thing you can do to help yourself, and help others, if you get in trouble in the water – a tip from the chief ranger at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Never get in the Atlantic Ocean without some sort of flotation device — a surfboard, paddleboard, boogie board, even a pool noodle.

If you get in trouble, you can use it to stay afloat until help arrives. If you see someone else in trouble, you can use it to help them.

You can also educate yourself.

Every Monday through the end of August, the Hatteras Island Rescue Squad offers free rip current and beach hazards training at the station. The sessions start at 9:30, last about half an hour and are family-friendly.

Go. It’s free, and could save a life.

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