New York City’s beach season got off to an alarming start last month when two teenage boys drowned on the beach at Jacob Riis Park in Queens.

NYPD officials said they were swept away by a strong rip current shortly after the lifeguards left their chairs.

The tragic incident was a reminder of how to react if you find yourself in the water off the city’s coast.

Gothamist spoke to swimming experts and a veteran lifeguard about what New Yorkers can do to stay safe if they find themselves in choppy waters.

If there is no lifeguard present, you are not allowed to swim.

At least 13 swimmers have drowned on Rockaway beaches since 2019. According to a Gothamist analysis, all of the deaths occurred during hours when lifeguards were not on duty. They are supposed to be stationed along the city’s beaches from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Rescue workers are trained to swim in dangerous waters, but if they don’t work, they can’t do anything.

Check the parks department’s website for beach information before you go. Many parts of the city’s beaches remain off-limits to swimming as the city struggles to bolster its lifeguard ranks.

Become friends with your lifeguard.

Lifeguards don’t just sit quietly in their high chairs, said John Hearin, an expert on coastal processes. He said it’s worth talking to them about the conditions in the water before you jump in.

“If there are rip currents right next to their tower, they should be able to see that and warn people,” he said.

Other experts agreed that New Yorkers need to crack down on their lifeguards.

“When I go to the beach, and I’ve been a lifeguard for years, the first thing I do is look for my lifeguard,” said Shawn Slevin of the Swim Strong Foundation. “And I go up to that lifeguard and say, ‘Can you tell me what’s happening in the water today?'”

Don’t panic if you get caught in a rip current.

If you feel like you’re being swept out to sea by a strong current, the best thing to do is relax and not waste your energy, says Janet Fash, the city’s chief lifeguard who has watched over Rockaway’s beaches for decades.

“A rip current can be terrifying for a non-swimmer,” she said. “For a surfer, it’s a joy to take a rip out into the waves. So depending on who you are, the rip current can be terrifying, but it does stop.”

Hearin agreed: “If you just get caught up in the rip, you usually end up being thrown in one direction or the other,” he said.

Fash said that sometimes currents will naturally carry swimmers back to shore. But if that doesn’t happen, you should wait for the current to subside and then swim slowly parallel to the beach until you find a calmer part of the water before swimming back.

Don’t be a hero.

If you try to save someone struggling in the water, you can also get into trouble. You should alert a lifeguard if you see someone in the current and leave further help to professionals.

“Don’t go and save them,” Fash said. “You can throw them something, but if you’re not a lifeguard, don’t be a hero, because you’ll drown too,” Fash said.

Oh, and stop calling them “downfalls.”

According to John Fletemeyer, president of the International Drowning Prevention Alliance, rip currents occur in bays and inlets, while rip currents occur on and along beaches.

“Never confuse a mouse with a mouse, because they are completely different animals,” he said.