Rip Current Safety

The Florida coastline is notorious for strong rip currents. Rip currents are strong currents of water that flow away from shore, and can occur in any water where there are breaking waves. The United States Lifesaving Association estimates that more than 100 Americans are killed per year as a result of incidents involving rip currents.

Rip Current Formation

Rip currents occur when breaking waves set water moving towards shore. When the water that has been moved to the shore begins to move back out to the sea, it flows at a right angle to the beach. This is called the “neck” of the rip, and is the point where the water moves most rapidly. Strong wind and waves can cause rip currents to form as water is forced sideways when abating back from shore. The location of rip currents is unpredictable.

Rip Current Dangers

Approximately 80 percent of beach rescues performed by lifeguards are in response to rip current incidents. Swimmers that are most in danger of injury or death from rip currents are those that are uneducated about the phenomenon. Rip currents move fast, between one and eight feet per second on average, and swimmers that are unprepared for the fast moving water may be knocked down. Panic or a lack of swimming skills may prevent swimmers from resurfacing and swimming back to shore.

Safely Exiting a Rip Current

Swimmers can prevent rip current injuries by staying calm after being pulled away from shore by a rip current. A rip current cannot pull swimmers underneath the water, but it can pull swimmers away from shore. Swimmers should work to stay afloat while keeping calm. If the rip current is strong, it may be necessary for the swimmer to tread water until a weaker point in the rip current can be found. Once it is possible to break away from the current, swimmers should swim parallel to the shore to exit the current. After the swimmer has broken free from the current, the swimmer should move towards shore at an angle away from the rip current.

Rip Current Safety Tips

The following rip current safety tips may help swimmers to avoid rip current dangers:

  • Never swim alone
  • Swim only at lifeguarded beaches
  • Obey all beach rules, including lifeguard instructions
  • Learn strong swimming skills
  • Observe all warning flags and advisories
  • Exercise caution at all times
  • Call for help if another swimmer is caught in a rip current