Rip Current Safety

Well, the weather is warming up and so everyone is heading outside to have cookouts, picnics, play ball, skateboard, sail, kayak, swim, and surf. Seasoned water sports enthusiasts are aware of the dangers of the ocean. Beginners may not be aware of certain things that could put them in danger, and I don’t mean anything as dramatic as sharks. We are talking about rip currents, not rip tides, which are often incorrectly considered the same thing.

A rip current is an unseen force (to the untrained eye) that exists along coastal waters of not only the oceans, but also the great lakes. A rip current is a narrow channel of powerful, fast moving water, moving at speeds of 8 feet per second or more. To put that into perspective, that”s faster than an Olympic swimmer. A rip current may be mere feet wide, up to several yards wide.

Rip currents claim approximately one hundred lives annually in the United States, but another estimated ten thousand swimmers are rescued from rip currents annually by life guards. The danger of rip currents is that when a person becomes caught up in it, they often panic and try to swim straight back to shore. Unable to exceed the speed of the current, the swimmer becomes fatigued and then is carried out into open water and drowns.

If you ever have the misfortune of becoming caught in a rip current, rather than attempting to “out swim” the current, swimmers should swim parallel to the shore line and try to exit the rip current, once out of the strong pull of the rip current, you would then be able to swim safely back to shore.

Rip currents can be seen from shore as an open channel that runs perpendicular to the shoreline and out towards open water. It appears as a channel through the breaking waves, these areas should be avoided! Rip currents and rip tides are terms often interchanged incorrectly. A rip tide is a specific type of current caused by the swift movement of tidal water through inlets and the mouths of estuaries, embayment”s, and harbors.

I suppose that if you were an ocean going kayaker, a rip current could be an easy way to get out into open water past the break waves, and if you were a surfer a rip current could get you out past the break waves so you can catch a wave and ride it back in, but swimmers beware! You may find a sign similar to this posted near danger areas for rip currents.

If you see these signs be aware of the risks, and like the sign says, if in doubt don’t go out. Swimmer safety is up to you, be aware of your surroundings at all times and understand safety procedures for emergencies such as rip currents as this could save your life.

For more information on rip current safety, visit the National Weather Service: Rip Current Safety and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sites.

So go ahead, swim! Just be safe.


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