With summer vacation on the horizon, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the United States Lifesaving Association, the National Park Service, and Delaware Sea Grant are promoting Rip Current Awareness Week, June 6–12.
Rip currents are the leading surf hazard, claiming more than 100 lives per year nationally. For that reason, the organizations are alerting beach-goers to the threat of rip currents and informing them how to prevent drowning from their strong and potentially fatal grip.
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.
“Each year, America’s surf beach lifeguards rescue more than 50,000 swimmers from rip currents,” according to B. Chris Brewster, president of the United States Lifesaving Association. “Swimming at a guarded beach can reduce your chances of drowning to 1 in 18 million.”
A number of NOAA’s National Weather Service forecast offices issue surf zone forecasts, which include rip current information during the summer beach season between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
“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 the 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 www.erh.noaa.gov/er/phi/ripcurrent/getSRF.php.
-Swim at a beach with lifeguard protection.
-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 straight back to shore against a rip current 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 of the current.
-If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water…when out of the current, swim towards the shore.
-Never swim alone.
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.”
For more about Delaware Sea Grant, visit www.deseagrant.org.