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Be safe when taking advantage of what the Gulf has to offer

By Staff | Dec 24, 2014

Thousands of people flock to the Sanibel and Captiva Islands on an annual basis to experience the beauty and enjoyment the Gulf of Mexico provides.

Sanibel was stunned to learn of two tragedies which occurred just three days apart, as two young men went missing after partaking in the joys of water sports off the coast of the island.

Andrew Barber, a 32-year-old from Fort Myers, and 19-year-old Chad Winter of Illinois, each went missing on Friday evening and Monday afternoon, respectively, after both had mishaps with their non-motorized watercrafts.

Barber’s unfortunate incident happened after his kayak was overturned near the Sanibel Causeway Friday night, while Winter fell off his paddleboard Monday afternoon. Winter’s body was recovered Tuesday, Dec. 16, approximately 300 yards offshore in 10 feet of water near Algiers Beach access.

Barber’s body was recovered Friday afternoon near the Sanibel Causeway.

The search for Barber was suspended after several leads from sonar hits didn’t come to fruition.

In the wake of the accidents, local officials are offering some safety reminders.

Marcel Ventura, who is the owner of YOLO Rentals of Captiva Island, has vast experience in the water sports of the Gulf. That includes paddleboards, which are part of YOLO’s rental arsenal.

“If someone is inexperienced, we inform them of how to be safe in the Gulf,” Ventura said. “With paddleboards, we suggest they stay close to shore and follow the no-swim markers. And if they can’t swim, we don’t recommend they go out.”

The most important safety feature one can practice is wearing life preservers, or floatation devices. Florida law requires all persons under the age of 12 to wear a life preserver.

Life preservers are required to be at least readily accessible for anyone over the age of 12, meaning that you are able to put it on in an emergency. But Ventura heavily suggests to wear a life preserver at all times, no matter your age.

Another important safety device to have when paddleboarding is be leashed to your board, in case you fall off and it won’t go floating away from you.

“If you fall and you hit your head on the board, having a life preserver on increases your chances of survival,” Ventura said. “Another big thing is to always remain calm, don’t panic and always be aware of your environment.”

Having a sound-producing device such as a whistle, which is audible for at least a half-a-mile, is also recommended.

Riptides in the Gulf are existent and can cause problems if you find yourself stuck in one.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, riptides: “are channelized currents of water flowing away from shore at surf beaches. Typically, they form at breaks in sandbars, and also near structures, such as jetties and piers, as well as cliffs that jut into the water.”

The NOAA has four items as to how to survive a riptide, they include:

  • Don’t fight the current. It’s a natural treadmill that travels an average speed of 1-2 feet per second, but has been measured as fast as 8 feet per second-faster than an Olympic swimmer.
  • Relax and float to conserve energy. Staying calm may save your life.
  • Do NOT try to swim directly into to shore. Swim parallel to the shoreline until you escape the current’s pull. When free from the pull of the current, swim at an angle away from the current toward shore.
  • If you feel you can’t reach shore, relax, face the shore, and call or wave for help.

Another danger to avoid is mixing alcohol with water sports.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Among adolescents and adults, alcohol use is involved in up to 70-percent of deaths associated with water recreation, almost a quarter of ED visits for drowning, and about one in five reported boating deaths.”

When using alcohol while involved in water sports, impaired judgement and coordination are the two main contributors to accidents. It also increases risk taking, while reducing reaction time.

Alcohol also reduces the effectiveness of CPR, while increasing the chances of hypothermia.

Each of paddleboarding and kayaking are the preferred activities by people when they want to be out in a non-motorized water vehicle. The attractions of both are many.

“You get to be directly out in the marine environment and get to see what’s in the water,” Ventura said. “We’ve had people get to see dolphins, rays and manatees in the water while paddleboarding. It’s also a good fitness activity and a very peaceful, serene experience.”