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Florida Hazards Watch - Marine Hazards and Rip Currents

Abundant sunshine, warm temperatures and fair weather conditions make Florida the ideal place for snorkeling, swimming, water skiing, sailing, fishing and cruising. However, Florida's weather and marine conditions can frequently change and it can happen quickly. With well over 2000 miles of coastline, marine hazards are an everyday threat in Florida. LargeĀ  waves, thunderstorm winds, lightning, waterspouts and rip currents are just some of the hazards that can impact marine conditions across Florida's waterways.

What is a Rip Current?

A 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. Surprisingly, rip currents kill more people in Florida during an average year than hurricanes, tornadoes and lightning combined.

What Actions Should You Take To Be Prepared?

When at the beach:

  • Whenever possible, swim at a lifeguard-protected beach.
  • Be cautious at all times, especially when swimming at unguarded beaches
  • Pay attention to beach warning flags and know what the colors mean.
    beach warning flags
  • Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards. Lifeguards are trained to identify hazards. Ask a lifeguard about the conditions before entering the water. This is part of their job.
  • Learn how to swim in the surf.  It's 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.

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.
How to escape a rip current image

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.

Follow safe boating practices:

  • Have a VHF Marine Band Radio and NOAA All-Hazards Weather Radio on board.
  • Check the marine forecast well ahead of time.
  • Know the limitations of your boat. If small craft advisories or gale warnings are issued, you should postpone travel.
  • Be sure everyone aboard is wearing a life jacket.
  • File a float plan at your marina.
  • Thunderstorms and weather-related hazards form quickly. Never let these storms cut off your route back to land.

 

Where Can You Go For Up-To-Date Info?

Beachgoers who want to learn more about rip currents can visit www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov. Boaters can go to http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/marine/home.htm to check the current marine conditions and updated forecasts.

Floridians and visitors can also check the marine weather from their local National Weather Service (NWS) Office. The NWS issues wind, wave and weather forecasts for the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean coastal waters out to 60 nautical miles from shore. By going to each office's homepage and clicking on the Marine Weather link, you will be able to find Coastal, Offshore and Surf Zone Forecasts, Tide Information, Sea Surface Temperatures, Buoy data and other forms of Marine Weather information.

  • Mobile NWS Marine Weather Forecast for coastal waters of the western Panhandle
  • Tallahassee NWS Marine Weather Forecast for coastal waters of the eastern Panhandle and Big Bend
  • Jacksonville NWS Marine Weather Forecast for coastal waters of Northeast Florida
  • Tampa NWS Marine Weather Forecast for coastal waters of West Central Florida and Southwest Florida
  • Melbourne NWS Marine Weather Forecast for coastal waters of East Central Florida
  • Miami NWS Marine Weather Forecast for coastal waters of Southeast Florida and mainland Monroe County
  • Key West NWS Marine Weather Forecast for coastal waters of the Florida Keys

 

 

Updated:
March 24, 2017 10:25

 

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