I remember playing on the beach as a young child; digging holes, building sand castles, and rushing into the water to wash off the sand. I loved the water, but every once in a while, something happened that left me frustrated, confused, and several meters away from shore. Although I didn’t know it then, I was experiencing the pull of a rip current! Luckily I always had an adult close by, and Miami isn’t exactly known for powerful rip currents, but the experience left me with a great deal of respect for this mysterious phenomenon.
A rip current is a strong channel of water that flows offshore beginning near the shore and often extending beyond the breaking waves. They are associated with underwater features that cause the formation of a channel in the bottom of a body of water. When this happens, water is allowed to escape from the near shore through a narrow channel. It is also common for rip currents to occur near physical structures, including piers and natural outcroppings. Rip currents can create currents so strong that it can be extremely difficult for even the strongest swimmers to swim against.
It is estimated that more than 100 people drown in rip currents each year. Additonally, they account for more than 80% of rescues performed by ocean lifeguards. This makes rip currents one of nature’s most deadly natural phenomenons.
Common indicators of a rip current include:
- A break in the incoming wave pattern.
- A channel of churning, choppy water.
- An area having a noticeable difference in water color.
- A line of foam, seaweed or debris moving steadily away from shore.
Although these are good indicators, they are not always present. Because of this, it is not always possible for a lifeguard to spot a rip current. Any time a red or double red flag is visible, stay out of the water. When there is a yellow flag, use caution when in the water.
What to do
If trapped in a rip current, do not freak out. Do not try to swim against the current; it’ll just leave you exhausted and more likely to drown. Just relax and let the current take you. Once it weakens, swim parallel to shore then back to shore at an angle. If you are too exhausted to swim to shore, signal a lifeguard by calling and waving.
Have any more questions about what to do in an emergency? Send us a quick email or give us a call. We’re here to help.