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Rip Currents

Fair Weather Killers

On average 10 people drown each year as a result of rip currents. Surprisingly, rip currents kill more people in Florida during an average year than hurricanes, tornadoes and lightning combined. Many of these drowning incidents occur on days when the weather is quite pleasant, with a nice breeze blowing onshore. This catches beachgoers by surprise, since fair weather is usually associated with pleasant ocean conditions. This is why it is very important to understand how rip currents form and how to prevent becoming a victim.

What Are Rip Currents?

How to escape from a rip current imageA rip current is a strong channel of water moving away from the shore. Rip currents typically form along the beach at breaks in the offshore underwater sandbar, but they can also form near structures such as jetties and piers. They can form very quickly and extend as far as 100 yards offshore. Rip currents are a common part of the natural near-shore ocean circulation, and occur at many Florida beaches every day. Rip currents can become stronger and more frequent on certain days because of changes in weather or ocean conditions. They can travel as fast as five miles per hour, or about eight feet per second, which is faster than an Olympic swimmer can swim! It is important to understand that rip currents do not pull people under the water; instead, they carry people out towards deeper water.

Rip Currents have Visual Clues

You can sometimes see the signs that show a rip current is present. A visible channel of churning, choppy water; a narrow channel where there is a difference in water color; a line of seaward moving foam; an offshore area of murky water are all indicators of possible rip currents.

Don’t Become a Victim!

In Florida, rip currents are the number one concern for beach lifeguards. According to the United States Lifesaving Association, 80 percent of surf beach rescues are attributed to rip currents. Beachgoers should always recognize the danger of rip currents and remember to swim at beaches with lifeguards.  If there are no lifeguards at your beach, know the warning flag system.


Fatality Chart

Rip Current Safety Week is June 3-9, 2012

More information about rip currents and what to do to portect yourself and others can be found at http://www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov or http://www.floridadisaster.org.

Daily rip current forecasts can be found at http://www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov/forecasts.shtml.






When at the beach:

Beach Warning Flags
  • Whenever possible, swim at a lifeguard-protected beach.

  • Be cautious at all times, especially when swimming at unguarded beaches. Understand the warning flag system and know what the colors mean.

  • Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards. Lifeguards are trained to identify hazards. Ask a lifeguard about the ocean conditions before entering the water. This is part of their job.

  • Learn how to swim in the surf.  It is not the same as swimming in a pool or lake.  Also, never swim alone!

  • Stay at least 100 feet away from piers and jetties. Permanent rip currents often exist alongside these structures.

  • Consider using polarized sunglasses when at the beach. They will help you to spot signatures of rip currents by cutting down glare and reflected sunlight off the ocean’s surface.

  • Pay especially close attention to children and persons who are elderly when at the beach. Even in shallow water, wave action can cause loss of footing.

  • Pay attention to the latest weather forecasts from local media sources, as well as the National Weather Service which issues daily Hazardous Weather Outlooks and Surf Zone Forecasts.


If caught in a rip current:

  • Remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.

  • Never fight against the current.

  • Think of a rip current like a treadmill that cannot be turned off, which you need to step to the side of.

  • Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim at an angle--away from the current--towards shore.

  • If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water. When out of the current, swim towards shore.

  • If you are still unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself by waving your arm and yelling for help.

  • Remembering the phrases “Don’t Fight, Swim Left or Right” or “Swim to the Side to Stay Alive” could save your life.

If you see someone in trouble, don't become a victim too:

  • Get help from a lifeguard.

  • If a lifeguard is not available, have someone call 9-1-1.

  • Throw the rip current victim something that floats--a lifejacket, a cooler, an inflatable ball.

  • Yell instructions on how to escape.

  • Remember, many people drown while trying to save someone else from a rip current.




January 25, 2012 14:40