Beach Safety – Rip Currents

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 in Southern California at any beach with breaking waves.

Rip currents can be killers. The United States Lifesaving Association estimates that the annual number of deaths due to rip currents on our nation’s beaches exceeds 100. Rip currents account for over 80% 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 United States Lifesaving Association has 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.

What are Rip Currents?

  • Rip currents are channeled currents of water flowing away from shore at beaches with surf.
  • Rip currents typically form at breaks in sandbars, and also near structures such as jetties and piers.
  • Rip currents are quite common and can be found on many surf beaches everyday.

Why are Rip Currents dangerous?

  • Rip currents pull people away from shore.
  • Rip current speeds can vary from moment to moment and can quickly increase to become dangerous.
  • Rip currents can sweep even the strongest swimmer out to sea.

How to identify a Rip Current:

  • A channel of churning, choppy water.
  • A difference in water color.
  • A line of foam moving seaward.
  • A break in the incoming wave pattern.

What to do if caught in a Rip Current:

  • Stay calm!
  • Do not try to swim against the current.
  • Escape the current by swimming in a direction parallel to shore.
  • If you are unable to escape by swimming, float or tread water. When the current weakens, swim at an angle away from the current toward shore.
  • If at any time you feel you will be unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself; face the shore, call or wave for help.

Beach safety tips:

  • Learn how to swim at your local pool before swimming at the beach.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Always swim near an open lifeguard station.
  • Check with the lifeguard before entering the water to be made aware of any unsafe conditions.

How can you help someone else caught in a Rip Current?

  • Do not become a victim while trying to help someone else! Many people have died in efforts to rescue rip current victims.
  • Get help from a lifeguard.
  • If a lifeguard is not present, yell instructions on how to escape.
  • If possible, throw the rip current victim something that floats.

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