The U.S. Lifesaving Association estimates that nearly 100 people die in rip currents each year in the United States, and rip currents accounted for more than 80 percent of the 84,900 rescues that lifeguards made in 2016.
If you’re headed to the beach this summer it’s critical that you pay attention to the rip current forecasts issued by NOAA’s National Weather Service. Weather service offices in Wilmington and Morehead City are among the eight along the Atlantic Coast that put them out.
Rip currents are often caused when water gets trapped behind a sandbar and rushes back into the ocean through a narrow channel. They are present almost every day, though not always at high speeds. They are typically narrow – only about 10 to 20 feet wide – and can move up to 8 feet per second.
Because they are so narrow, experts suggest swimming to the sides, parallel to shore, or floating and treading water. Fighting them is too strenuous for even the strongest swimmers.
Here are tips from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association to heed at the beach this summer.
▪ Whenever possible, swim at a lifeguard-protected beach.
▪ Never swim alone.
▪ Learn how to swim in the surf.
▪ Be cautious at all times, especially when swimming at unguarded beaches.
▪ Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards.
▪ Stay at least 100 feet from piers and jetties.
▪ Wear polarized sunglasses to help you spot signs of riptides — such as a break in the pattern of waves approaching the shore.
▪ Pay especially close attention to children and elderly people.
If caught in a rip current:
▪ Remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
▪ Never fight against the current.
▪ Think of it as a treadmill that cannot be turned off, which you need to step to the side of.
▪ Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim at an angle – away from the current – toward shore.
▪ If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water. When out of the current, swim toward shore.
▪ If you are still unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself by waving your arms and yelling for help.
If you see someone in trouble:
▪ Get help from a lifeguard.
▪ If a lifeguard is not available, have someone call 911.
▪ Throw the rip current victim something that floats – a life jacket, a cooler, an inflatable ball.
▪ Yell instructions on how to escape.
▪ Remember, many people drown while trying to save someone else from a rip current.
Find out more about rip currents at www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov.