Rip currents are dangerous to swimmers. These powerful currents may develop along the coast at a low spot or a break in an offshore sandbar, where water is funneled out to sea in a narrow channel. In the United States alone, rip currents cause 100 drownings a year and 75% of all rescues by lifeguards.
Weather and surf conditions pending, on Wednesday, July 31, along a section of Dewey Beach, the University of Delaware Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service, Dewey Beach Patrol lifeguards, United Open Water Rescue Team, and Delaware State Police Aviation Unit will conduct an experiment and mock rescue procedure to learn more about how rip currents form and how swimmer rescue efforts can be improved.
Beginning at 8:00 a.m. on July 31, in a 400-meter, closed-off section of Dewey Beach, lifeguards will release a quart of red food coloring — the same food coloring used to dye Easter eggs or tint cake frosting — into the ocean to highlight rip currents that may develop. Videographers aboard the Delaware State Police’s Trooper 2 emergency rescue helicopter will film the rip currents before the red food coloring is diluted by the ocean water.
This “tracer” experiment will be followed by a mock rescue of a lifeguard in the water posing as a swimmer caught in a rip current. The rescue, which also will be filmed, will help beach safety personnel better identify rip currents and understand their behavior, as well as teach new lifeguards how to best respond to swimmers in peril.
Both procedures should be completed by 10:00 a.m. The resulting video footage will be used in future education and training programs for lifeguards and other rescue personnel, as well as in rip current awareness programs for the public.
If the weather is not conducive to rip current formation on July 31, the back-up dates for the procedures will be Thursday, August 1, or Friday, August 2.
For more information, contact Wendy Carey, coastal processes specialist for the UD Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service at (302) 645-4258, or Todd Fritchman, captain of the Dewey Beach Patrol, at (302) 227-6365.