With summer vacation on the horizon, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Park Service, and Delaware Sea Grant are alerting beach-goers to the threat of rip currents and how to prevent drowning from their strong and potentially fatal grip.
Rip currents are the leading surf hazard, claiming more than 100 lives per year nationally. For that reason, NOAA, the National Park Service, and Delaware Sea Grant are promoting Rip Current Awareness Week, June 7–13, with the theme “Break the Grip of the Rip.”
Rip currents are narrow channels of fast-moving water that pull swimmers away from the shore. Flowing at speeds of up to eight feet per second, rip currents are surprisingly strong and swift. These powerful currents can be especially dangerous because wave heights and current speeds can increase suddenly and dramatically.
They account for more than 80 percent of the tens of thousands of rescues performed by beach lifeguards in the United States annually.
“Before going into the water, check the rip current outlook, swim on guarded beaches, and know how to escape a rip current's grip,” said Jack Hayes, director of NOAA’s National Weather Service. “Doing so can save your life.”
Rip currents can form at all surf beaches so keep these safety tips in mind:
• Check for surf zone forecasts at www.weather.gov/ripcurrents/forecasts.shtml or
• Learn to identify rip currents and pay attention to lifeguard warnings about rip currents.
• Stay afloat and stay calm.
• Do not swim against a rip current. Swimmers who try to swim against a rip current straight back to shore often fail to overcome its strength, risking exhaustion and drowning.
• Escape rip currents by swimming in a direction following the shoreline until you are free. Then swim at an angle away from the current toward shore.
• Never swim alone; always swim at lifeguard-protected beaches.
NOAA Sea Grant and the National Weather Service have placed rip current signs in English and Spanish on ocean and Great Lakes beaches throughout the nation to warn swimmers of the dangers posed by this hazard. Every Atlantic Coast municipality in Delaware has participated in the NOAA rip current awareness campaign.
“The best protection against rip currents is prevention: Never swim alone, and speak to on-duty lifeguards about rip currents and other expected surf zone hazards,” added Wendy Carey, coastal hazards specialist with Delaware Sea Grant. “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 — and when in doubt, don’t go out.”
On the Web:
NOAA rip current information: www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov
NOAA Sea Grant: www.seagrant.noaa.gov
National Park Service: www.NPS.gov
Delaware Sea Grant: www.deseagrant.org
Delaware Sea Grant rip current information: www.deseagrant.org/ripcurrents