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The Dangers of Rip Currents

Photo of Benny Agosto

A rip current is one of the leading dangers for anyone visiting the beach. They can range from large in size to completely undetectable and strong enough to draw a person more than one hundred yards out to sea at 8 feet per second. Rip currents are produced when water is drawn back from the beach to the sea. They can have various signs of their presence. The signs of stronger rip currents are visible breaks in the incoming wave patterns, a channel of isolated violent water in the surf zone, debris floating outward through the surf zone and significant difference in water color. These currents occur at any beach with breaking waves and account for over eighty (80%) of water rescues on the beach.

Contrary to common myth, rip currents do not pull swimmers under water. They pull people away from the shore. If you are caught in a rip current, it is critical to remain calm and relaxed to conserve energy. Do not fight the current but rather slowly swim parallel in the direction of the shore until you are out of the current's grasp. If you are unable to swim with the current, then carefully float or tread water until you can escape.

As a result, over one hundred drownings occur annually in the United States due to rip currents, certain precautions must be taken to minimize the risk of these currents. It is recommended to only swim at beaches with lifeguards, never swim alone, dress young children in coast guard approved life jackets and to always discuss the dangers of possible rip currents with your party and the lifeguards on duty. To access rip current threat advisories, visit www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov/forecasts.shtml for more information.

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