It’s beach season and my kids are getting braver with their newly acquired swimming skills but it also made me realize that with their increased water skills and confidence comes increased risks as they venture further into the water and so we’ve been on a but of a mission to learn more about the importance of learning to “read” the ocean in particular the often misnamed rip current (not rip tide).
Why Rip Currents are Dangerous
Rip currents are the leading surf hazard for all beach goers. They are particularly dangerous for weaker or non-swimmers. Rip current speeds are surprisingly fast, typically 1-2 feet per second however, speeds as high as 8 feet per second have been measured–this is faster than Usain Bolt can sprint! So beware rip currents can sweep even the strongest swimmer out to sea.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Over 100 drownings are due to rip currents every year in the United States and more than 80% of water rescues on beaches are due to rip currents.
Rip currents can occur at any surf beach with breaking waves, including the Great Lakes
- channel of churning, choppy water
- an area having a notable difference in water color
- a line of foam, seaweed, or debris moving steadily seaward
- a break in the incoming wave pattern
Note – rip currents are changeable and can form at any given time. Lifeguards will often post flags to alert swimmers of the risk of rip currents at a beach, but the currents can come and go without any warning.
Learn how to swim!
- Never swim alone, If in doubt, don’t go out!
- Be cautious at all times, especially when swimming at unguarded beaches
- Whenever possible, swim at a lifeguard protected beach.
- Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards.
- If caught in a rip current, remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
- Don’t fight the current. Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim 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: face the shore, wave your arms, and yell for help.
- If you see someone in trouble, 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 and yell instructions on how to escape. Remember, many people drown while trying to save someone else from a rip current.
IMPORTANT Rip currents do not pull people under the water–-they pull people away from shore. Drowning deaths occur when people pulled offshore are unable to keep themselves afloat and swim to shore. This may be due to any combination of fear, panic, exhaustion, or lack of swimming skills.
For more info check out NOAA, National Weather Service