Beach Day Turns Tragic in Fernandina, Teenager Drowns

An ocean rescue in Fernandina Beach began on Sept. 13th. Search and recovery effort for missing boy concluded next day.

Sadly, a beach day turned tragic along Amelia Island’s coast on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023. Three people, visitors from Georgia, encountered trouble while in the ocean in the vicinity of Fernandina’s North Beach area. Another beachgoer on the shore made a 911 call upon witnessing the dire situation unfolding, and Fernandina Beach Fire Department’s Ocean Rescue responders arrived and entered the water.

Search & Recovery Efforts

Two were transported to hospital during the afternoon (reportedly an adult and minor), while a 14-year-old remained missing by the time night fell on Sept. 13th. Various agencies were involved in the emergency search including the Fernandina Beach Fire Dept., Nassau County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Coast Guard, with boats and helicopters. The search and recovery effort resumed Thursday morning, Sept. 14, 2023. Officials later announced in the afternoon, they had recovered the boy’s body along Fernandina Beach, roughly 24 hours after he disappeared in the ocean. The family has since shared their loss of 14-year-old Daymeyun Ellis, and a GO FUND ME page has been set up for donations to help with the funeral/memorial cost. Thoughts go out to this family experiencing such a sudden and devastating loss.

Hurricane Lee Continues To Impact Coastal Waters
Red Flag Warns of High Hazard Ocean Conditions
Red Flag Warns of High Hazard Ocean Conditions — Strong Currents Present, Dangerous For All Levels of Swimmers

There were red high hazard ocean conditions at the beaches on Wed., Sept. 13, 2023. An alert by the Fernandina Beach Fire Department was texted at 9:56 a.m. to those previously signed up for the text alert system, “strong currents present, dangerous for all levels of swimmers. For emergencies call 911!”

Besides potential rip currents, big waves have been rolling in from Hurricane Lee, creating dangerous “beach breaks,” that can knock people over.

National Ocean Service Highlights Rip Current
Green dye highlights rip current at beach, National Ocean Service image.
Green Dye Highlights What A Rip Current Looks Like (photo: National Ocean Service)

Pictured, signs about rip currents posted along the beachfront.

National Weather Service (NWS) and regional meteorologists out of nearby Jacksonville, FL have been broadcasting coastal warnings this week due to Hurricane Lee, located far out to sea in the Atlantic basin. Two active NWS alerts are issued at this writing, “a high surf advisory (large breaking waves of up to 5 to 7 feet), and high rip current risk for northeast Florida and southeast Georgia beaches.” Red high hazard flag conditions are anticipated to continue at least through Friday night and possibly through the weekend. (Check latest advisories for coastal Nassau from the National Weather Service (NWS).

Red Flags — “Play It Safe, Stay Out Of The Water”

In recent weeks, more often than not, red high hazard flags have been flying at the beaches, starting before Labor Day weekend.

Red flags flying along Fernandina's beachfront over Labor Day Weekend 2023. Dangerous currents, big waves.
Red flag flying at Main Beach Park in Fernandina, Labor Day Holiday Weekend 2023. Each year, the summer lifeguard season ends after Labor Day, and the red chairs are removed from Amelia Island’s shoreline.
Manned Lifeguard Tower Season Ends After Labor Day Weekend

Seventeen red lifeguard chairs are typically stationed along Amelia Island’s shoreline, manned seasonally from Memorial Day Weekend Through Labor Day Weekend. Once the holiday weekend passes, the red chairs are removed from Amelia Island’s seashore (about 12 miles of Atlantic Coast beaches).

The Fernandina Beach Fire Department announced on September 5, 2023, via Facebook, the following “beach update”:

“The 2023 Ocean Rescue season has ended and lifeguard towers will no longer be out on the beach. Please continue to pay attention to the warning flags and follow for updates. If in doubt, don’t go out!! For emergencies, dial 911.”

SOURCE: Fernandina Beach Fire Department Facebook Reel (9/5/2023)
Beach Patrols

On the day of the tragic drowning, the chief of the Fernandina Beach Fire Department indicated during an interview with Action Jax News, that there had been rolling patrols monitoring the beaches.

Year-round, the public has forty beach access points within the Fernandina Beach city limits to enter the Atlantic beachfront. Aside from the biggest beach parks, other beach access points have limited parking spaces, and some have no parking at all. People can go to the beach via foot paths and wooden walkways through the dunes to the seashore.

During summer season, beachgoers are advised to swim near lifeguard towers and pay attention to flags and beach signage. Off season, it’s especially important to also check ocean conditions via phone apps and web pages before considering going in the ocean. Fernandina’s Fire Department/Ocean Rescue posts beach alerts via and the public can sign up to receive Safe Beach Day alerts via text message to mobile phone.

Editorial note — This article was updated Sept. 15th &17th, 2023 with additional information on the boy’s identity, including a GOFUNDME page link for donations to help with funeral/memorial cost.