PINE KNOLL SHORES — Cooperation between the beach towns of Bogue Banks is vital to keeping beachgoers and swimmers safe, according to Mayor Ken Jones.
This was a big part of the discussion that occurred during the regular board of commissioners’ meeting Wednesday, held in the town hall boardroom at 100 Municipal Circle.
Carteret County Emergency Services Director Stephen Rea came to the meeting to address the board on the matter of beach safety, in particular on the use of ocean-condition flags.
“Carteret County Emergency Management (officials) have no jurisdiction on the beaches,” Mr. Rea said. “We just help our beach communities.”
According to Mr. Rea, as of Wednesday there have been seven drowning deaths in the county this year. Six of these deaths occurred prior to Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the summer tourism season in Carteret County. In response to the unusually high number of drownings, on May 29, Mayor Jones held a press conference to highlight efforts by town staff and residents to inform beachgoers about the town’s beach warning flag system.
All Bogue Banks’ towns use warning flags to alert beachgoers to existing and forecast surf conditions. However, Mr. Rea, echoing the thoughts the mayor expressed during his late May press conference, said the flag systems throughout all the towns should be uniform.
The Pine Knoll Shores warning flags and their meanings are as follows:
• Green flags – calm conditions, swimmers should exercise caution.
• Yellow flags – Moderate surf and/or rip currents.
• Red flags – High surf and /or strong rip currents likely.
• Black flags – water closed to the public.
Mr. Rea said Pine Knoll Shores is the only town on Bogue Banks that uses a black flag to alert beachgoers that the waters are closed; other towns post two red flags instead, per the system established by the U.S. Lifesaving Association.
Commissioner Clark Edwards said the other towns’ system makes sense to him, save for the double red flags.
“Whatever we decide for the island, we should all use the same thing,” Mr. Edwards said.
Commissioner Bill Knecht also said Bogue Banks towns should be consistent with one another, not only with whatever flag system they choose, but with the flags posted on a given day.
“The towns like Emerald Isle and Atlantic Beach are bigger tourist destinations,” Mr. Knecht said. “They’re likely to have yellow flags posted when we have red flags.”
The idea of starting a beach lifeguard program was also discussed Wednesday. During public comment, resident Lance Brielinski said he was in support of starting such a program for Pine Knoll Shores.
“It doesn’t have to be a vast area (covered by lifeguards),” he said, “but we should have a guarded beach. I care about the people. I’ve seen 10-year-old girls in the water on days with red flags (posted) with no adult in sight.”
Pine Knoll Shores Fire Chief Jason Baker also seems to support the use of lifeguard programs. In the June edition of The Shoreline, the town’s monthly newsletter, Chief Baker advises beachgoers to swim at beaches with lifeguards whenever possible.
“Lifeguards and surfers have saved countless numbers of people in trouble,” the chief said. “Being at a lifeguarded beach, you have the peace of mind knowing there’s a watchful eye overlooking your family as you swim.”
Town Manager Brian Kramer said at Wednesday’s meeting that he’s been talking with officials from other Bogue Banks towns about lifeguard programs.
“Sadly, this island’s proven stationary lifeguards don’t always work,” Mr. Kramer said. “I’d recommend looking into mobile lifeguards.”
Contact Mike Shutak at 252-726-7081 ext. 206, email email@example.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.