How to Safely Get Out of a Rip Current
The Florida Panhandle is a wonderful place to live, work, retire or relax while on vacation. Though this paradisiacal location has a lot to offer, unwinding on the powdery white-sand beaches of the Emerald Coast and swimming in the emerald-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico have become two favorite pastimes for many people.
On the downside, we all know how easy it is to forget about dangers when you’re surrounded by stunning views. One of the dangers many beachgoers are unaware of is the rip current.
What Are Rip Currents and How Do They Form?
Rip currents typically occur close to the shore, near underwater sandbars, reefs, and piers.
These currents form naturally, when offshore winds and waves push the water toward the beach. Deflected by the shore, the water accumulates between the breaking waves and the beach, forming small currents near gaps or breaks in sandbars or other structures. As these currents move on and off the beach, they form a rip current, which is actually a narrow stream of water moving swiftly along the shore.
Good to know: Rip currents can occur on any beach, any time of the day or year, and can pull even the strongest swimmers out to sea.
A swimmer can safely get out of a rip current by taking a few simple actions, such as looking for telltale signs of rips and swimming away from them. Some common signs to look out for are:
- gaps in the water;
- areas of water that look different from the surroundings and move alongshore or offshore;
- visible channels of rolling, churning water;
- a line of foam moving seaward.
Good to know: Lifeguards know the areas with fixed rips and can easily spot newly formed rip currents. As they keep a closer watch over the people in the water, it’s better to swim at a life-guarded beach.
If you get caught in a rip current, you should try to:
- Exit shallow water: If you feel a strong pull and the water isn’t too deep, walk (don’t swim, as the current might pull you) immediately to the shore.
- Remain calm and “go with the flow”: If the water is deep, it’s very important not to panic. Keep calm and don’t try to swim directly to the shore. Instead of fighting the current, swim parallel to the shoreline and, if possible, tread water or float on your back to conserve energy.
- Call or wave for help: To safely get out of a rip current, wave your arms and yell for help as soon as you realize you might not be able to make it back to the shore. This will get the attention of a lifeguard or other beachgoers.
- Swim out of the current: Once the current becomes weaker, try to escape its pull, and swim diagonally away from it and toward the beach. Swimming too close to the current is dangerous, as one of the feeders may pull you back into the rip current. If you become too tired to swim, take a break by floating and continue to signal for help, as you approach the shore.
Good to know: Rip currents don’t pull swimmers under the water. However, when waves are larger, the speed of a rip current can increase up to 8 feet per second. This can make it very difficult to get out of a rip current.
Regardless of how often you get to sink your toes into the sand, taking the measures described above can turn a day at the beach into a safe and enjoyable one.