Posted In Health Tips on May 26, 2023
With warmer weather, a trip to the beach might be included in your holiday or vacation plans, and unless there is an approaching coastal storm or hurricane, you might not even think about the danger of rip currents.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), about 100 fatalities occur due to rip currents across the U.S., with lifeguards rescuing over 30,000 a year, so it’s important to know how to recognize a rip current and what to do if you’re caught in one.
What is a rip current?
Rip currents are powerful currents of water moving directly away from the shore. Their strength increases with higher surf and swells, and so the danger increases during tropical storms, but they can form on any beach with breaking waves, even waves as low as two to three feet high, and even when the weather is calm.
Rip currents can move faster than an Olympic swimmer and can carry waders or even the strongest swimmer away from the shore. They don’t pull you underwater, they just pull you away from shore. Most swimmers will panic and try to swim against the current, which can quickly tire them out and cause them to drown.
How to stay safe at the beach
Try to always swim on a beach with a lifeguard. Before going into the water, look to see if a sign has been posted warning about rip currents, and talk with a lifeguard about current conditions.
Avoid swimming or wading near the shore where waves aren't breaking, or where there are flat spots in the line of breaking waves. Another indication of a rip current might be where there's foam or sediment in the water being transported away from the beach offshore.
If in doubt, don’t go out! If you choose to swim on beaches without a lifeguard, never swim alone. Take a friend and be sure they have a floatation device they can throw to you and that they also have a cell phone to call 911 for help.
If you’re caught in a rip current:
- Relax; rip currents don’t pull you under.
- Don’t try to swim back to shore against the current.
- Swim parallel to the shore until out of the current.
- If you can’t escape, float or tread water until you escape the current or are rescued.
- If you need help, draw attention to yourself by yelling and waving for assistance.
How to help someone else caught in a rip current:
- Don’t become a victim yourself.
- Call a lifeguard.
- If a lifeguard isn’t available, call 911.
- Throw the person something that floats (like a lifejacket, body board, inflatable tube or raft).
- Don’t enter the water without a floatation device.
- You can also yell instructions to the person on how to escape the rip current until help arrives.
Remember "RIP" current survival steps:
- Relax! Don’t panic.
- ‘I need help!’ Call for assistance.
- Parallel – swim parallel to shore to get out of the rip current.