The Atlantic hurricane season officially started on June 1 and runs through November 30. During this period there is an increased likelihood of incurring rip tides and currents. When you’re at the beach it’s important to know how to recognize rip tides and what to do about them if you happen to find yourself, or someone else, caught in one.
Riptides cause more deaths each year than hurricanes, tornadoes, and lightning strikes combined. A rip current can potentially pull you out to sea. People who drown in a riptide do so because they panic and don’t know how to escape it.
What is a rip tide
Rip tides are powerful currents of water moving away from shore and are the leading surf hazard at the beach, especially for non-swimmers. According to the United States Lifesaving Association, 80 percent of surf beach rescues are a result of rip currents.
Rip tides form when waves break near the shoreline, piling up water between the breaking waves at the beach. As this water returns to sea it forms a narrow jet of water that moves rapidly offshore, roughly perpendicular to the shoreline. Normally under most tide and sea conditions the speeds are relatively slow, however when wave, tide and beach conditions align, the speeds can quickly increase and become dangerous to anyone, including experienced swimmers. Stormy weather can significantly increase the occurrence of rip tides.
How to identify a rip tide
Some things to watch for to identify a rip tide or currents include:
~ a channel of churning or choppy water,
~ an area of water having a notable difference in water color,
~ a line of foam, seaweed or other debris moving steadily out to sea,
~ any area of calm and/or muddy water in the midst of more active conditions,
~ or any unusual break in the incoming wave pattern.
Rip currents are often not readily or easily identifiable to the average person so to stay safe look for these signs. If you are concerned about the possibility of rip currents, ask a lifeguard before entering the water.
What to do in a rip tide
If you are caught in a rip current, remain calm. Never fight against the current. Swim out of the current parallel to the shoreline. When out of the current, swim at an angle away from the current and toward the shore. If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float on your back or calmly tread water. When out of the current, swim to shore. If you are unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself by waving your arms and calling for help.
How to help someone caught in a rip tide
If you see someone in trouble in the water, don’t become a victim yourself. Many people drown each summer while trying to save another person from a rip current. Call to a lifeguard if one is available. If not, call 9-1-1 then throw the person something that floats such as a life jacket or inflatable ball.
To stay safe in the ocean it’s always a good idea to swim where lifeguards are present and to avoid going in the water alone. If you’re not a strong swimmer, wear a flotation device. Regardless of your swimming abilities, make sure you and your family know how to identify a riptide and understand the methods of escaping one.