Heading to the beach for summer vacation? Rip Current Awareness Week Is June 1-7. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Delaware Sea Grant College Program are urging beachgoers to learn how to “Break the Grip” of rip currents before getting into the water. Rip currents are a potentially deadly threat — accounting for more than 80 percent of lifeguard beach rescues.
Rip currents are narrow channels of fast-moving water that pull swimmers away from the shore. They can occur at any beach with breaking waves, including the Great Lakes.
Moving at speeds of up to eight feet per second, rip currents can move faster than an Olympic swimmer and can easily overpower a victim. Panicked swimmers often fail trying to counter the current by swimming straight back to shore — putting themselves at risk of drowning because of fatigue.
If caught in a rip current, don’t fight it! Swim parallel to the shore and then swim toward shore at an angle — away from the current.
“Education is critical, especially for those who visit the beach infrequently and may be unfamiliar with this leading surf hazard,” said Timothy Schott, meteorologist with the National Weather Service Marine and Coastal Branch.
As part of the NOAA Rip Current Awareness campaign, signs have been developed to reach a wide beach-going audience with life-saving instructions about rip currents. Every Atlantic coast municipality in Delaware has participated in the NOAA rip current awareness campaign.
The United States Lifesaving Association estimates that the annual number of deaths due to rip currents on our nation’s beaches exceeds 100. Rip current fatalities can be prevented or reduced if beach-goers are better educated about surf zone hazards.
“Swimming in the ocean is not the same as swimming in a pool or a pond,” said Wendy Carey, coastal hazards specialist with the Delaware Sea Grant College Program. “Rip currents can be especially dangerous because wave heights and current speeds can increase suddenly and dramatically. Even the most experienced swimmer can be overwhelmed by the power of a rip current. It’s best to be cautious — assume that rip currents are present even if you can’t see them — when in doubt, don’t go out.”
NOAA and Delaware Sea Grant also offer the following safety tips:
-Swim at lifeguard-protected beaches.
-Never swim alone.
-Speak to on duty lifeguards about rip currents and other expected water hazards.
The Mt. Holly, NJ, National Weather Service office issues a daily Surf Zone Forecast for Delaware’s Atlantic coast, providing a three-tiered structure of low, moderate, and high to describe the rip current risk. All National Weather Service offices forecasting a moderate to high risk of rip currents include this information their Hazardous Weather Outlook. The Delaware surf zone forecast and rip current risk products are available online at www.erh.noaa.gov/er/phi/ripcurrent/getSRF.php or www.weather.gov.
More safety tips and educational materials are free and available to download at www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov and www.ocean.udel.edu/ripcurrents.
To learn more about the Delaware Sea Grant College Program, visit www.deseagrant.org. For more about UD’s College of Marine and Earth Studies, which houses the Sea Grant program, visit www.ocean.udel.edu.