Rip currents are powerful, channeled currents of water flowing away from the shore and can occur at any beach with breaking waves, including the Great Lakes, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Rip currents are especially dangerous for weak or non-swimmers; however, given the right circumstances, it’s possible for one to pull strong swimmers further from the shoreline.
On average, more people die every year from rip currents than from shark attacks, tornadoes or lightning. Furthermore, rip currents account for 80 percent of surf beach rescues, and more than 100 people die every year from drowning in rip currents, according to the United States Lifesaving Association.
So, to help you break the grip of the rip, let’s chat and chew about tips to help keep swimmers safe from rip currents when taking a dip this summer.
There’s a common misconception about rip currents, which is that rip currents pull people under the water. That’s untrue—they pull people away from shore. Part of the reason for why rip currents attribute to so many annual drowning deaths is because when people get pulled offshore, they grow tiresome from trying to keep themselves afloat and swimming to safety.
Before you attempt to take on the big blue sea, become familiar with signs that may indicate a rip current is lurking nearby. Some of these may include:
- A channel of churning, choppy water;
- A difference in water color;
- A line of foam, seaweed, or debris moving seaward; and
- A break in the incoming wave pattern.
How to Avoid and Survive Rip Currents:
- Never swim alone.
- Be cautious at all times, especially when swimming at unguarded beaches.
- Whenever possible, swim at a lifeguard protected beach; obey all instructions.
- 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 perpendicular to the shoreline. If you can’t swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water. In both cases, once you’re out of the current, swim towards shore.
- If you are unable to reach the shoreline, get someone’s attention—turn towards the shore, wave your arms, and yell for help.
- If you notice someone in trouble, flag down a lifeguard, or call 9-1-1. Throw the rip current victim something that floats and yell instructions on how to escape.
Whether you’re the one caught in the rip current, or you’re trying to save someone from one, remember that there are risks involved with both. Staying safe in the summer heat is hard enough without the stress of rip currents. Before you pack the boogie boards and head off to the beach, check the latest surf zone forecast on the NOAA Weather Radio app (iTunes or Google Play) or online. While you soak up the sun this summer, be smart—if you can’t spot the rip, don’t take the risk.