Rip currents are powerful, channeled currents of water flowing away from shore. They typically extend from the shoreline, through the surf zone and past the line of breaking waves. Rip currents can occur at any beach with breaking waves, including the Great Lakes and rip currents can be killers.
The United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) estimates that more than 100 people die annually due to rip currents on our nation’s beaches. Rip currents account for more than 80 percent of rescues performed by surf beach lifeguards.
The greatest safety precaution that can be taken is to recognize the danger of rip currents and always remember to swim at beaches with lifeguards. The USLA have calculated the chance that a person will drown while attending a beach protected by USLA affiliated lifeguards at 1 in 18 million. If caught in a rip current at an unguarded beach, how you respond could make the difference between life and death.
A daily rip current outlook is included in the Surf Zone Forecast, which is issued by many National Weather Service offices. A three-tiered structure of low, moderate and/or high is used to describe the rip current risk. This outlook is communicated to lifeguards, emergency management, media and the general public.
Rip Current Tips
- If you are caught by a rip current, do not try to swim straight for the shore. The strong current can exhaust and defeat even the best swimmer.
- Stay calm and remember that the current is narrow and dies out beyond the breakers.
- If the current is weak, swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current, then swim ashore. If the current is strong, float with it until it dies out, then swim toward the shore.
- Please note: Strong rip currents form near groins, jetties and piers, and they cut deep holes in the bottom. Stay at least 100 feet from these areas.