2009-08-28 / Editorial/Opinion

An Old-Time Solution For A Modern Problem

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said last week, "Where there is an undertow, there are going to be drownings. The question is, how safe can you make it? We make it about as safe as can be." Benepe is incorrect, and there is something that the Parks Department can do to make the oceanfront safer for swimmers. When we were young, we learned to swim in the ocean by hanging on to a series of ropes, perpendicular to the beachfront, attached to floating barrels, that were situated every 25 or 30 yards. Those ropes were anchored both at the waterline and about 75 feet out into the ocean. With the ropes and barrels, as we called them, a swimmer was never more than 15 yards or so from safety. Over the years, we have seen photos of the ropes and barrels and wondered why they are not in use today. Certainly, the majority of the six people who died in rip current-related drownings in past weeks would have been saved had they been able to grab on to a lifesaving rope as they were being pulled out to sea by a raging current. The Parks Department says that the ropes and barrels are old technology, not cost-effective to site or maintain, and that they are not reliable lifesaving devices. On Friday, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, in response to a question from a Wave editor, said that the ropes and barrels "gave non-swimmers a false sense of security" and that nobody else used them. That is disingenuous. Entire generations of Rockaway youth learned to swim in the ocean utilizing the ropes and barrels. Although we are not water safety experts, as Parks officials are supposed to be, we disagree. We remember when the ropes and barrels, assisted by lifeguards on catamarans, taught kids to swim in the ocean and saved many lives. Perhaps a pilot program is called for. Place the ropes and barrels on the most dangerous beaches at the eastern end of the peninsula and see if they make a difference. We believe they will save lives.

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