MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Memorial Day weekend is known as the unofficial start to summer around here, and as you and your family flock to the beach, you should know how the lifeguards are preparing to keep you safe if a life-threatening situation occurs.
Lack's Beach Service staffs lifeguards all across the Grand Strand. The company has what they call "Rookie school." All of their lifeguards are already certified through the American Red Cross, but in Rookie School they are trained by Horry County Beach Patrol to get their open water rescue certification.
This prepares them to get you out of some potentially dangerous situations.
Rookie School also teaches them to identify hazards, including rip currents - what they say is the most dangerous thing we deal with here. They're prepared for them – they check with the National Weather Service to get a forecast and idea of whether to expect rip currents, and how severe they will be.
They say you need to pay attention to the flags in the sand, because they show you what to expect in the water, and could save your life.
A yellow flag means conditions are fair, but always be alert. The blue caution flag means there is a hazard – whether jellyfish or a rip current. It indicates swimmers can't enter the water beyond waist deep. If there is a severe rip current, a storm about to hit, a shark, or a number of other serious conditions in the water, the red "no swimming" flag will fly.
The lifeguards are constantly being tested to make sure they're prepared to keep you safe, says Hannah Houston, the Recruiting and Training Manager at Lack's Beach Service.
"We have a weekly in-service training where we go through different scenarios, practicing what we learned in Rookie School," Houston said. "So they definitely stay up to par on their rescue skills and CPR and all that."
Houston says Lack's lifeguards see more than 500 missing kids each summer. Even when you feel like panicking, if it happens to you, it's important to stay calm.
"And we have a 100 percent success rate of finding them now," Houston says. "So that's why it's really important as a parent to remain calm, and to teach your children to go straight to the lifeguard if they realize that they're lost - cause it's very easy to happen."
You need to be calm enough to accurately describe what your child looks like to the lifeguard.
Houston trains lifeguards for Lack's. She says oftentimes, kids get pulled down the beach in the water without realizing it, or they take a walk. When they turn around, they can't find their hotel again.
So you need to make sure your child can identify which hotel is yours when they're on the beach, because there usually isn't a sign like there is from the street. And make sure to tell them to find a lifeguard if they do get lost.
The American Red Cross launched a campaign urging Americans to become stronger swimmers. They say 44 percent of adults admit they would fail a basic swim test. So those flags could save you or your child's life if water conditions get hazardous.