SEA BRIGHT, NJ – Sandy Hook Bay located in Monmouth County NJ is fed both by the Atlantic Ocean and the Navesink River, it is known for its breath-taking beauty and famously deadly currents, dramatic tidal changes, and bull sharks. Once protected by the surfmen from US Lifesaving Station Spermaceti Cove, Sandy Hook Bay is a recreation paradise. On a sunny Sunday afternoon on August 23, 2020, while paddling in the bay along the beaches of the Highlands a father and his adult son capsized their shared kayak in a dangerous fast-moving riptide. immediately becoming distressed swimmers. The river lifeguard from Miller beach noticed the two victims clinging to the piling of an old pier and entered the water to effect rescue. The second lifeguard radioed for assistance, cleared the swimming area, and immediately entered the water to back up his colleague. The two lifeguards contacted the scared victims but quickly realized that they were no match for that day’s tidal current.
Two lifeguards were in the water to assist with the distressed swimmers less than 1000 yards down-river from Scott Keller’s location. The father and his son had now been pushed into the pilings of a long narrow private dock, where the riptide created a strainer. Both victims clung to the structure’s wooden pilings, unable to move against the force of the current. When the two Sea Bright river lifeguards made contact with their “cling-ons” they did their best to secure them in their rescue tubes. Ever-present was a significant risk of the river’s current carrying the guards and their victims into one of the numerous dilapidated marine structures that peppered the waters up-river from their locale. One lifeguard was able to assist the younger of the two victims to shore. The other lifeguard was having more and more trouble managing his uncooperative adult victim who refused to let go of the piling. The teenage river lifeguard chose to wait until back-up arrived in leu of fighting the riptide with an exhausted uncooperative victim twice his weight.
Scott Keller was working his job at a popular local restaurant called the Proving Ground. Scott, a lifelong Highlands resident, and Navesink Riverboat operator, is always keen on noticing flotsam in the water. On this day while managing the restaurant’s private dock, Scott spotted an overturned kayak and two oars float up-river and knew something was amiss. Scott immediately untied his center console RHIB and motored down-river looking for the Kayak’s owner, who was no doubt caught in the eight-knot rip tide. Scott soon came across the lifeguard and his victim clung together on the pilings of the old dock. Scott immediately moved into position to attempt a rescue. He maneuvered the bow of his boat into an eddy current so as to come within reach of the guards and their victims. Captain Keller by himself was then able to assist both victim and lifeguard into his boat while under power, maintaining his position and ignoring the inherent danger of the current pushing his boat into the structure. Cut up and thankful the lifeguard and his victim were returned to shore safely and without major injury thanks to Captain Keller.
Captain Scott Keller selflessly put himself and his boat in harm’s way to rescue a father and a new rookie lifeguard in need of assistance. This act in my humble opinion exemplifies the long-standing centuries-old traditions held by local fishermen, boat captains, and the long since gone surfmen of the Highlands, the tradition to help those in peril on the water and those who are in distress, no matter the danger or risk.