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Rip Currents
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What are rip currents?
Rip Currents

Rip currents are channelized currents of water flowing away from shore at surf beaches.

Rip currents typically form at breaks in sandbars, and also near structures such as jetties and piers.

Rip currents are commonly found on all surf beaches, including Great Lakes beaches.

 

Why are rip currents dangerous?

Rip currents pull people away from shore.

Rip current speeds can vary from moment to moment and can quickly increase to become dangerous to anyone entering the surf.

Rip currents can sweep even the strongest swimmer away from shore.

A scientific review of data provided to the United States Lifesaving Association found that there are over 100 deaths each year in the U.S. attributed to rip currents.

Rip currents account for over 80% of rescues performed by surf beach lifeguards.

 

What are clues that rip currents may be present?
Rip Currents

A narrow gap of darker, seemingly calmer water between areas of breaking waves and whitewater.

A channel of churning, choppy water.

A difference in water color.

A line of foam, seaweed or debris moving seaward.

 

How can I protect myself and my family from rip currents?

Always swim in an area protected by lifeguards

Consult lifeguards before entering the water.

Assume that rip currents are always present at surf beaches. 

Learn to swim in the surf and make sure your children can swim in the surf. Pool swimming is not the same as swimming at a surf beach.

Learn to identify rip currents and take the time to evaluate the water before you enter the water.


What if I'm caught in a rip current?
Rip Currents

Relax, rip currents don't pull you under.

Don’t swim against the current.

You may be able to escape by swimming out of the current in a direction following the shoreline, or toward breaking waves, then at an angle toward the beach.

You may be able to escape by floating or treading water if the current circulates back toward shore.

If you feel you will be unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself. If you need help, yell and wave for assistance.

 

How do I help someone else?

Don't become a victim while trying to help someone else! Many people have died trying to rescue rip current victims.
Rip Currents

Get help from a lifeguard.

If a lifeguard is not present, call 9-1-1, then try to direct the victim to swim following the shoreline to escape.

If possible, throw the rip current victim something that floats.

Never enter the water without a flotation device.

 

Facts about rip currents

Rip currents do not pull people under the water—they pull people away from shore.

Rip current speeds vary. Average speeds are 1-2 feet per second, but they have been measured as fast as 8 feet per second—faster than an Olympic swimmer!

Rip currents can be very narrow or more than 50 yards wide.

Sometimes a rip current ends just beyond the line of breaking waves; however, others may continue to flow hundreds of yards offshore.

Rip currents are sometimes mistakenly called undertow or riptides but these terms are not correct. Only the term rip currents is technically correct.

 

Safety tips

Know how to swim.

Swim near a lifeguard.

Never swim alone.

If in doubt, don't go out.

 

Educational Materials

The following publication quality resources may be downloaded, printed and posted without prior permission, so long as no modifications are made except adding the logo of the organization paying to publish the materials.

Rip current safety brochure

Rip current poster

Rip current sign suitable for posting at beaches

Rip current safety brochure - Spanish

Rip current poster - Spanish

Rip current sign suitable for posting at beaches - Spanish


Where can I get more information about rip currents?

Our partner, the National Weather Service, offers additional information at www.weather.gov/safety/ripcurrent

The United States Lifesaving Association, in partnership with NOAA's National Weather Service and National Sea Grant Program, is working together to raise awareness about the dangers of rip currents. Research is also being conducted in order to develop and improve the ability to predict the occurrence and strength of rip currents. The goal of the awareness campaign and research is to reduce the number of rip current related fatalities. 

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