Break the Grip of the Rip This Rip Current Awareness Week

May 30, 2014

 

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection recognizes June 1 through 7 as Rip Current Awareness Week. Rip current safety is important throughout the year, but Rip Current Awareness Week provides an opportunity to bring special attention to beach safety.

Rip currents are powerful currents of water moving away from shore. When strong winds blow toward the shore, waves are formed that move large amounts of water toward the shore. One common way that rip currents form is when water becomes trapped behind sand bars. Sand bars lie parallel and close to the shore. At some point, the pressure of the water against the sand bar may cut a narrow channel through it. The channel is usually no more than 20 yards wide and water rushes back out to sea through it. That rapidly moving water is called a rip current.

Visitors to Florida’s beaches are often inexperienced swimmers or nonswimmers who are not familiar with rip currents. Rip currents are strong and may even pull the strongest swimmers out to sea. Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable as are those who cannot swim, are poor swimmers or are unfamiliar with swimming in the ocean.

While warning flags are not required on public beaches, consistent use of flag colors where flags are present is mandated by state law and is intended to promote safer beachgoing. Red is indicative of high hazard conditions; yellow means medium hazards are present; green indicates low hazard conditions; and purple warn of the presence of dangerous marine life. Rip currents are an example of one type of hazard red flags may signal.

Signs of a rip current include:

  • A channel of churning, choppy water;
  • An area having a notable difference in water color;
  • A line of foam, seaweed or debris moving steadily seaward; or
  • A break in the incoming wave pattern.

You can review additional safety tips and check surf zone forecasts at NOAA’s National Weather Service website. While at the beach, remember conditions can change rapidly, so observe the water conditions and stay safe.

Remember, if you are caught in a rip current:

  • Stay calm;
  • Do not swim against the current;
  • Stay afloat! Swim along the shore until you feel the current relax;
  • When free of the current, swim at an angle away from it toward the beach; and
  • Call or wave for help if you need assistance.

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