Rip Currents: Don’t Get Pulled In

Rip current.

Rip current.

High resolution (Credit: Delaware Sea Grant )

Saturday, April 25, was an otherwise sunny day at Pompano Beach, Fla., until something went terribly wrong.

According to the Associated Press, a 70-year-old man from Washington, D.C., drowned after attempting to rescue two young boys caught in a rip current. The boys made it back alive, the man did not.

Some 30 miles away, a young man from Cape Coral, Fla., met a similar fate off Palm Beach. The day before that event, lifeguards on Pensacola Beach, Fla., rescued more than 25 people literally sucked out to sea by powerful rip currents.

Stories like these make it clear that the danger of rip currents cannot be overstated. With summer vacation swiftly approaching, NOAA's National Weather Service, National Sea Grant Program and the United States Lifesaving Association have joined forces again for its “Break the Grip of the Rip” Rip Current Awareness Week campaign, June 7–13. The campaign is a focused effort to help swimmers, surfers and other beach/lake enthusiasts understand, avoid and survive being caught in rip currents.

Life guards rescue victim from rip current.

Life guards rescue victim from rip current.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA )

Currents That Take You By Surprise

According to the USLA, rip currents are the leading surf hazard for beachgoers. More than 100 people a year die from rip-current related drownings alone – more than from shark attacks, tornadoes and lightning strikes combined. At least 80 percent of lifeguard rescues are due to rip currents.

Rip currents are powerful, fast-moving channels of water (up to 8 feet per second) that typically flow from the shoreline to beyond the area where waves break. They can form on any beach or lake shore where waves are breaking, often near sandbars, jetties and piers.

Rip currents are capable of dragging even the strongest of swimmers far away from the shore, causing distress and panic.

Get to Know the Flow

Would you know a rip current if you saw one? Rip currents are not easily identifiable by most people. Some of the more recognizable characteristics of a rip current include:

Look for rip current educational signs and surf hazard warning flags posted by beach patrols that correspond to specific surf conditions and local rip current activity.

NOAA’s National Weather Service issues regional surf zone forecasts that help local authorities determine an area’s risk for rip currents (low risk, moderate risk and high risk). These risk assessments help lifeguards and law enforcement officials determine whether the water is safe for swimming.


How to Avoid Being ‘Ripped’ From the Headlines

Rip current poster.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Don’t become a statistic. Before you step foot in the water this summer, familiarize yourself with the warning flags for your area and swim only on guarded beaches.

If you should get caught in a rip current, don’t panic. Try to remember a few simple rules:

For more tips on how to avoid and survive rip currents, visit NOAA’s Rip Current Awareness Week  Web site. While you’re there, check out cool video footage and aerial photographs, including video animation of a swimmer caught in a rip current, as well as first-person accounts from rip current survivors. NOAA logo.