According to rescuers, Declan was playing on the float on the sand when a strong wave pulled it into the water.
“The float was right there, in easy reach and then just in the blink of an eye, it was beyond the breakers and too far for them to reach,” Oak Island Water Rescue Chief Tony Young told CBS News affiliate WWAY.
According to Young, the boy was told to remain on the float as winds swept it further into the Atlantic Ocean. “A lot of the time, people get in trouble if they abandon ship and try to swim back,” he said.
Ultimately, Declan floated nearly half a mile out to sea before help arrived. Rescuers say the oversized float acted like a sail and quickly drifted from the beach — an issue more common than people realize.
Declan’s parents called 911 and Oak Island volunteer rescuers sent a boat out to him less than 15 minutes later. They gave him a helmet and life jacket before reuniting him with his family.
Another volunteer also dragged the unicorn float back from the water. Rescuers say they don’t want to discourage people from using floats, but encourage them to be safer about it.
“These floats are very popular. We advise everybody to anchor them somehow or have a parent hold on to a line,” Young said.