Beware of Rip Curents
Beach lifeguards across the United States remind swimmers to be aware of the dangers posed by rip currents.
The reminder might come across as yet another hassle for a beach going public weary of bad beach news during the height of vacation season.
Lifeguards will tell you rip tides are not a hassle, they are a deadly serious beach phenomena. Statistics show each year at least one hundred people drown after getting caught up in a rip current and being unable to swim back to shore. Furthermore, over three quarters of all the successful lifeguard beach rescues are due to people getting caught up in a rip current.
Basically a rip current is a channel of water that flows away from the beach. Waves bring water toward the beach, and currents form to channel water away from the beach. Swimmers caught up in rip currents are carried away from the beach, past the point where the line of waves begins to break.
Rip currents come in a range of strengths and sizes, and you can find then in any coastal environment, including the Great Lakes. Generally areas with heavy surf are considered the biggest risk areas for producing the largest and strongest currents, but not always. Almost every coastal location with natural or man made intrusions into the water, such as jetties and sea walls, has some type of rip current connected to it.
Getting free of a rip current is not a simple task, even for advanced swimmers. Most authorities suggest that individuals caught in a current should begin to free themselves by swimming parallel to the shore until they are out of the current. Current can range between five to one hundred feet in width, and normally you can tell you are free when you stop moving out to open water. Once freed, strong swimmers can head back to the coast.
Weaker swimmers also need to break free of the current, and afterwards they should tread water and call attention to themselves by waving their arms and yelling for help. Using the buddy system while swimming, and choosing a swimming area with a lifeguard, provides the best insurance for rescue.
© 2007 Patricia A. Michaels