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Quick-thinking boat captain saves child off Pass-a-Grille

Mark Parker

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Gulfport resident Craig Edwards, a captain with Ballyhoo Media, rescues a child caught in a strong current Sunday afternoon. An unidentified bystander also attempted to help. Photos provided.

Captain Craig Edwards said he was simply upholding the mariner’s code when he jumped from his digital billboard vessel Sunday afternoon to rescue a boy caught in a dangerous current.

Edwards and Captain Patrick Foley, both with Miami-based Ballyhoo Media, were circling the southern tip of Pass-a-Grille Beach when they noticed the child chasing an errant beach ball. Gusty winds blowing offshore contributed to typically strong currents near the adjacent jetty.

Edwards said the boy secured his ball and realized he had drifted out to sea. Once the child let go and attempted to swim back to shore, he struggled to keep his head above water.

“That current is very serious, so we were just fortunate to be in the right place at the right time,” Edwards said. “His granddad was following us along the jetty, and he had a giant smile on his face. The young boy – we didn’t speak the same language – but we gave each other a high-five.

“And just seeing granddad’s face, it was a very special moment.”

Edwards believes the unnamed boy was between 10 and 12 years old. The captain, who also owns a local underwater boat cleaning business, said the child was about 20 feet past the jetty when the current began pushing him into the Pass-a-Grille channel.

Edwards spent several years as a lifeguard and said instinct drove him to dive in the water after the boy. He noted that proper marine rescue protocol calls for throwing a floatation device and dragging a potential drowning victim to safety.

However, Edwards said he worried the boy would lose his grip and sink under the waves. He convinced Foley, who piloted the expansive floating billboard, to wait near an adjacent sand bar.

Edwards said he “just wanted to go in the water, hands-on.” The Gulfport resident was still wearing his slacks and socks.

“I didn’t want to look away,” Edwards added. “I just went right in … and then we’ll figure out what boat we’re going to get on if we didn’t get to the sandbar. But at least I would stabilize him and keep him afloat.”

Captain Craig Edwards (left), still wearing his slacks and socks, returns to his vessel after dragging the boy to safety. Captain Patrick Foley piloted the boat. Photo: Facebook.

Edwards secured the boy and brought him to the shallow sandbar. The family’s Mother’s Day celebration could have ended in tragedy.

The child’s mother also left the jetty to reach her son and began struggling in the current. Another boat scooped her out of the water as Edwards rescued the child.

Edwards noted officials prohibit swimming near the jetty due to strong currents. He said speeding boats present another hazard around the sandbar, a popular marine recreation gathering place.

Edwards said he attempted to calm the boy as he dragged him to safety. He later realized the child spoke Spanish.

The two captains quickly left the area. Edwards said the wind, waves and were pushing their vessel into the sandbar. “We could easily get in trouble with those conditions, with that big sign as a sail.”

Ballyhoo Media is the nation’s largest marine advertising company. It expanded from South Florida to the Pinellas County Beaches – the boats also cruise around the St. Pete Pier – and now operates in Seattle and around New York City.

Those additional eyes on the water provide local benefits. Edwards said he and another partner aided in a water rescue off Clearwater Beach in October 2023.

A Ballyhoo captain helped save a woman who jumped from a Miami bridge April 30. Helen Roldan, communications director, said the company has participated in five documented rescues. “We are incredibly proud of our captains – they’re constantly vigilant of our waterways,” she said.

Edwards’ boat features an innovative seafloor mapping and monitoring system. Ballyhoo sends collected data back to the University of South Florida and the International Seakeepers Society.

The company also recently launched a pilot program with Miami Waterkeepers that tests marine bacteria levels and provides the information to the public via the Swim Guide App. Its owners dedicate 10% of advertising space to environmental groups.

“Anyone who needs help – that’s what the boating community does,” Edwards said of the company’s efforts. “And when you have a strong eye on the water, it’s just instinctive to hop right on in and help somebody.”

Captain Craig Edwards spent several years as a lifeguard in Nassau County, New York, and South Florida.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Carol Briam

    May 15, 2024at3:56 pm

    Thank you, Captain Edwards! You’re a hero.

  2. Avatar

    Steven Brady

    May 15, 2024at10:28 am

    Great story and well done! People who don’t understand how currents work intuitively try to swim against them. That will never work. The trick is to swim to cross it. Easy to know when you’re not panicking. Not easy to do when you are.

    Near a gap between islands is often a very poor choice of place to swim.

    Often situations like this end up with both people drowning. Well done to all concerned!

  3. Avatar

    Amber S Bennett

    May 14, 2024at8:01 pm

    Great story with a happy ending!

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