RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Amid a recent uptick in drownings at Carolina beaches, ABC11 is diving into what to do --and, just as importantly, not do -- if you see someone struggling in the ocean.
Several Triangle residents have died recently trying to pull people out of strong currents at nearby beaches, including Raleigh resident Jon Shackelford in late June, and a Sanford man on July 1st.
Raleigh native and Holly Springs High School coach LJ Hepp knows what it feels like to save someone who's struggling. Last August, Hepp was on a bike ride near his home in Kure Beach when he saw two swimmers, a middle schooler and the child's grandfather, caught in a rip current. He rescued the two of them but said he was moved by the incident.
"I was shaken up for sure. You know, probably mentally as much as anything," Hepp said. "Just knowing that you're right there. And the time on the cusp of maybe somebody's living or dying."
He said he couldn't help but think of the risks in the moment, and of his pregnant wife and three kids.
"There's no doubt that the baby in my wife's belly was in my mind and my family was in my mind," Hepp said. "And, you know, you want to help the best you can. But I was very cognizant of just I wanted to make sure that I was going to be safe as well."
Despite Hepp's heroism that day, Ocean Rescue personnel actually say following human instinct and running into a riptide can do more harm than good.
"If you're just going in the water by yourself willy nilly, not really have any sort of plan of action, you're just putting yourself into a position for failure," said JD Lanier, Ocean Rescue Director for Kure Beach.
Lanier says they've already had to make 67 water rescues this season, and other nearby beaches have had hundreds more. He says if you don't have a flotation device, call 911 and do not attempt a solo rescue.
"You're putting yourself into the victim instead of a rescuer at that point because you have nothing to help the situation," he said.
Lanier says if you ever find yourself caught in a rip current, don't try to fight it and attempt to tread water, swim parallel to the shore, and if you can, get someone's attention.