Thinking About a Night Swim? Alluring But Deadly, Jersey Shore Lifeguards Warn
ATLANTIC CITY — Despite the mystery and romance of swimming in the ocean at night, recent drownings show why the dangers far outweigh the excitement, according to a longtime Jersey Shore lifeguard.
The Coast Guard on Wednesday night called off the search for a man who Atlantic City police were told went into the ocean Tuesday and did not return. That disappearance happened just days after 24-year-old Zuzana Oravcová, a Slovakian woman working at Jenkinson's on a work visa for the summer, drowned after going for a swim in Point Pleasant Beach at 2:30 a.m. Sunday.
"We extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones affected by this tragedy," Capt. Scott Anderson, commander of Coast Guard Sector Delaware Bay, said. "As first responders, it's always a difficult decision to suspend a search."
In Atlantic City on Tuesday, police were alerted by a woman near the Steel Pier that she saw a man enter ocean around 8:15 p.m. Police said it’s not known if the 31-year-old man came out of the ocean. She left the area before he returned. As a precaution, a search was started.
The Coast Guard ended their search around 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Seaside Heights Beach Patrol lifeguard chief Hugh "Jay" Boyd blames movies and TV shows for giving people the idea to go out and swim at night.
"A lot of people are down on vacation, they want to explore everything they can and have what they think is the best time down here at the shore. It's portrayed in a lot of movies over the years that it's exciting and such. Plus the fact that there's aren't a lot of other people and crowds around adds a little mystery to it," he told New Jersey 101.5.
Boyd said that alcohol can also be a factor in the decision to swim way after dark.
The biggest danger is that swimmers aren't familiar with the water and the conditions, according to Boyd, whose family has over 160 years of lifeguard experience in Seaside Heights. The Hugh J. Boyd Elementary School is named after Boyd's family. Boyd was a lifeguard in 1970s and left to become a State Police officer. He retired in 2011 and came back to Seaside Heights to run the Seaside Heights Beach Patrol.
In the Point Pleasant Beach case, Boyd said a northeast flow after a three-day nor'easter "gave us swells and some large rips and an overall white water effect."
"If they don't know anything to begin with about the water, that right there — even during the daylight hours — is dangerous," Boyd said.
It's also easy for lifeguards to become separated, which Boyd said makes a nighttime search that much harder.
"It's hard to pick out a little dot from the shoreline," he said.
Night swimmers can also become disoriented in areas where there are no lights from the rides along the boardwalk, like on the remote Island Beach State Park or Sandy Hook.
"Over in Sandy Hook, where you might be in a bay area where you're not sure how far away the shore line is, you might be looking at part of New York thinking it's part of New Jersey." That could send a swimmer deeper into the ocean, he said.
Night rescues require lifeguards to tag team and risk becoming separated.
"You just don't have the orientation to point out a distance in the dark. Things seems a lot further than they are."
Boyd said that if you do swim at night and become lost, don't panic.
"Of course, you're using up energy and you're not thinking too clearly. The best thing is to calm down as best you can so you don't burn through your adrenaline and get too tired too quick," Boyd said.