Story by Pamela Brown
Photo by Mike Coots
Two weeks after John Tyler placed a rescue tube at Lumaha‘i Beach on Kaua‘i’s North Shore, a 15-year-old boy saved a visitor’s life by grabbing the four-foot-long flotation device and swimming out. The drowning man was able to remain afloat long enough for lifeguards to arrive from another beach to bring him to shore.
With an average of twelve drownings per year on Kaua‘i and only ten beaches staffed with lifeguards, Tyler decided about a year and a half ago to place rescue tubes on the island’s unguarded beaches.
Since then the tubes have saved at least seven lives; perhaps, Tyler suspects, even more. In one incident a Kaua‘i naturopathic doctor rescued three members of a family caught in a riptide at Larsen’s Beach, the first beach where Tyler placed a tube.
Tyler, 43, a lifeguard himself and a CPR trainer, paid the $125 cost per tube, PVC pipe stand and instructional placard out of his own pocket. Eventually the community contributed. Tyler partners with emergency room physician Monty Downs, a longtime water safety advocate, for installation and fundraising.
Beachgoers often attempt rescues at Kauai‘i’s unsupervised shores, but, Tyler says, “People are using broken surfboards or going out with nothing. Let’s give them professional equipment that’s reliable and proven.” The effectiveness of the rescue tube is due to its ease of use.
“You grab it, put the sash across your chest Miss America style, then you swim out. When you’re close to the victim, hold the base of it and say, ‘Grab the tube. I’m here to help you,’” Tyler explains. “You can wait for help to arrive or gently kick into shore. And if the rescuer gets tired, a tube can support three people.”
To date, there are twenty-five rescue tubes on twenty-two Kaua‘i beaches. Tyler envisions a day when every Kaua‘i beach has at least one, and he hopes the idea will catch on statewide.
“There is no profit motive to this,” he said. “This is just a completely altruistic way to help people.”