For families that are vacationing at the beach, it is important to realize the dangers of rip currents before swimming in the ocean. The majority of fatalities from rip currents each year are people visiting from other areas.
Rip Tide Awareness Week is June 4-10, 2018. It is important to know what to do if you or a family member encounters a rip tide (also called rip current) so you’ll be able to disengage from it and return safely to shore.
As longshore currents move on and off the beach, “rip currents” may form around low spots in sandbars, as well as near structures like jetties and piers. A rip current, sometimes called a rip tide, is a localized current that flows away from the shoreline toward the ocean, perpendicular or at an acute angle to the shoreline. It usually breaks up not far from shore and is generally not more than 25 meters (80 feet) wide.
Rip currents typically reach speeds of 1 to 2 feet per second. However, some rip currents have been measured at 8 feet per second—faster than any Olympic swimmer ever recorded (NOAA, 2005b). If wave activity is low, several rip currents of various sizes and velocities can form. But with heavier wave action, fewer, more concentrated rip currents can form.
Rip tides are the leading surf hazard for all beachgoers, especially for non-swimmers. According to the United States Lifesaving Association, 80 percent of surf beach rescues are a result of rip currents. In addition, more than 100 people die annually from drowning when they are unable to escape a rip current.
Some ways you can identify rip currents include:
~ a channel of churning or choppy water,
~ an area having a notable difference in water color,
~ a line of foam, seaweed or debris moving steadily seaward,
~ or a break in the incoming wave pattern.
Clues like these may or may not indicate the presence of rip currents. Rip currents are not readily or easily identifiable to the average person. If you are concerned about the possibilities of rip currents occurring in the surf, it is best to ask a lifeguard before entering the water.
If you are caught in a rip current, remain calm to conserve energy. Do not fight against the current. Swim out of the current in a direction parallel to the shoreline. When out of the current, swim at an angle away from the current and toward the shore. If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water until the current releases. When out of the current, swim toward shore. If you are unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself by waving your arms and calling for help.
If you see someone in trouble, get help from a lifeguard if one is available. If not, have someone call 9-1-1. Throw the rip current victim something that floats such as a life jacket, boogie board, or other inflatable object.
Vacationers should know how to swim out of a rip current and to follow the advice of lifeguards before entering the surf. Pay attention to any signage or flags posted at the beach. When areas of rip currents are marked with signs, respect the signage and avoid the area.