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What to do if you are dragged in by an undertow

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In 2018, there were 129 fatal victims of drowning in the country, 19 of whom were in Guanacaste. This is one of the reasons that the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) launched the campaign Return Safely to Shore, which seeks to prevent tragic accidents like these.

One of the main causes of drowning are undertows. According to Pablo Murillo of the Red Cross Aquatic Search and Rescue unit, the problem isn’t the current, but the lack of awareness of visitors.

In order to avoid being dragged in by one, the first recommendation that lifeguards give is asking locals or surfers about the safest places to swim when you visit a beach you haven’t been to before. Also, pay attention to signs and stay informed on sea conditions such as the tide and swells. The ICT and UCR developed a free app called MIO Cimar 3.0 just for this purpose.

You can also identify patterns in the water that indicate the presence of undertows, such as an interruption in the wave pattern or an area that has a different color (because of the sand) or a line of foam, algae or trash that moves in unison.

If you see any of these signs, don’t go in the water. Always swim with an adult who can help you or call for help in case of an emergency.

If you are dragged in by an undertow, you must stay calm in order to resist the process. Don’t wear yourself out swimming against the current. The most important thing is to stay afloat. If you know how to swim, try to escape along the edge of the current (generally parallel to the beach) or go with it until you feel like it’s no longer pulling.

Once calm, start heading back toward the beach in a safe zone or raise your arms and scream for help until someone can come and save you.

If you see someone drowning, try not to rescue them unless you have received first aid training. Request help from the lifeguards, or from people with surfboards or call 911. Throw the victim a floating object like a cooler or a ball and give them instructions on how to escape. By following these simple tips, we can all return safely to shore.