Safety concerns on Upper Captiva after a number of drownings in July

Reporter: Dannielle Garcia Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
Credit: WINK News.

Experts fear the usually calm, shallow Gulf waters lull people into a false sense of security.

Recently, many people have reported the current off Upper Captiva is strong. And after two swimmer drownings near the same place on the island this month, we looked at what is causing this and how people can stay safe and still enjoy Southwest Florida beaches.

For starters, there are no lifeguards on beaches in Lee County, so safety is up to beachgoers in the area.

Upper Captiva Fire and Rescue and Lee County posted warning signs Thursday after a father visiting from Georgia died saving his daughter from a rip current earlier in July.

MORE: Scene where dangerous current swept man away after saving his daughter

“We put as a precautionary for future people who come down here that are not familiar with the area,” said Assistant Chief Craig Denison with Upper Captiva Fire and Rescue.

Three hours later, visitor Andrae Sailes, 39, who was named Friday, died in the same spot near a sandbar off Upper Captiva.

MORE: Law enforcement investigating swimmer drowning off Upper Captiva

“It’s always been there and has not changed,” Denison said.

Denison told us the sandbar can be a dangerous spot for people who don’t know the water well.

“At certain tides, the sandbars will separate,” Denison said. “And where the two separate is where you get the strong current that goes through. Like right now, it’s high tide. So they’re not separated, but when they do separate, there’s usually an 8 and 10-foot drop in between, and usually the water gets funneled into there.”

Gary Hines is visiting Upper Captiva. He doesn’t believe warning signs are enough to catch people’s attention.

“I think flags would be nice, especially where the carts let out and have more warnings there,” Hines said. “You see the signs, and you think it’s about the turtle habitat.”

A man also drowned off Turner Beach in July, making it three drownings in the weeks in the Gulf. Fire and rescue advise anyone in the water to get out if the water is rough and bad weather is coming through. And anyone who gets stuck in a rip current should swim parallel to the shore to escape the current.

MORE: Sheriff’s office investigates possible drowning off Captiva coast

And there was another close call on Captiva Island.

“He just kept treading and was going nowhere for the longest time,” said Allison Patterson, who witnessed a near drowning on Captiva. “He was fighting it, but you’re in a panic moment. You never know what you’re going to do.”

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