Emerald Isle reports ocean rescues, drownings down in 2020

Despite what Carteret County officials said were record numbers of tourists this summer and fall, ocean rescue calls were down sharply in Emerald Isle. (Brad Rich photo)

EMERALD ISLE — The town of Emerald Isle had two accidental drownings and one suicide by drowning this year, but had far fewer rescue calls than in the 2019 spring-fall tourism season.

That was the word from Emerald Isle Fire Chief Bill Walker during the town board of commissioners’ monthly meeting, conducted Nov. 10 on the GoToWebinar platform.

Chief Walker told the board there were 86 rescue calls to the town emergency medical services and Fire departments. The fire department runs the town’s lifeguard and ocean safety programs.

In 2019, there were 119 calls, in 2018 there were 183 and in 2017 there were 140. In 2019, there were four drownings, all accidental.

By month in 2020, there was one call and no rescues in April, 20 calls and eight rescues in May, 21 calls and seven rescues in June, 18 calls and nine rescues in July, 15 calls and 7 rescues in August, 10 calls and four rescues in September and one call and one rescue in October.

Chief Walker credited commissioners and Town Manager Matt Zapp for making efforts to improve ocean safety this year by hiring an additional lifeguard, designating an ocean rescue director and obtaining new equipment to use on the beach, including additional Jeeps to get rescue personnel to areas away from the two major beach access points quicker.

“Several hours were committed last winter to brainstorming what ideas and changes were needed to enhance our ocean rescue services and overall safety along our beach strand,” he told the board. “Since that time, the addition of an ocean rescue director to oversee the ocean rescue operations, lifeguards and USLA (United States Lifesaving Association) training objectives has proven itself.

“We have also aided our response in the use of leased Jeeps, instead of utility vehicles,” Chief Walker added. “We added one additional lifeguard, allowing our response time to be quicker, due to shorter patrol districts.”

In addition, Chief Walker said the town enhanced the flag system along the strand, putting them in more locations so more beachgoers could see them.

“The enhancement of our water safety flags allowed flags to be seen from anywhere on the beach strand along Emerald Isle,” he told the board.

In addition, lifeguards and flags were deployed earlier, in April instead of in mid-May, and the flags were out through October, about a month longer than in years past. Red flags, which indicate advice to stay out of the ocean unless using a flotation device, flew for 42 days during the season and yellow flags, which indicate conditions are normal but caution advised, flew for the remaining 138 days. The town did not fly double red flags – no one allowed in the water – at all this past season.

However, Chief Walker noted, “We responded to 21 incidents for help during red flags, bringing in five victims. We responded to 65 incidents for help during yellow flags, bringing in 31 victims.”

The improvements in the numbers, Chief Walker said, came despite record tourism numbers in June, July, August and September, after N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper lifted coronavirus-related travel restrictions that limited visitation in the early spring.

“We have had a record number of visitors this year,” he concluded. “Our efforts to provide the safest beach strand (along Bogue Banks) were excellent.”


Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.

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