Rip Currents University of Delaware Sea Grant College Program


University of Delaware NOAA Sea Grant



Around the country, NOAA programs are working to educate beachgoers and improve public safety through awareness campaigns, outreach networks, and partnerships. Through partnerships, agencies such as NOAA-National Weather Service, NOAA-National Ocean Service, NOAA-Sea Grant, and the U.S. Lifesaving Association have established rip current warning programs and public information campaigns in many coastal states. Locally, these agencies work with countless partners to get the word out. This program serves as an example of cooperative and coordinated efforts at local, state, regional and national levels that have combined to improve public education of dangers associated with hazardous rip currents.

National Rip Current Task Force

Recognizing the need to establish a national communications consensus on rip currents as a prerequisite for a successful public safety campaign, NOAA convened a NOAA-USLA task force in 2003 led by the National Weather Service. This coordinated task force consists of technical and communications representatives from NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS), National Ocean Service (NOS) and Sea Grant, along with the U.S. Lifesaving Association.

The goals of the NOAA-USLA Rip Current Task Force include establishment of consistent communication, especially related to rip current education efforts, and improved data sharing relative to rip current rescue data, and observations related to nearshore coastal processes when rip currents are present.

NOAA-USLA Rip Current Task Force products include: a rip current brochure, distinctive rip current graphics, rip current video and public service announcement, and national rip current sign template that can be duplicated and posted along boardwalks and beachfronts, and a NOAA rip current Web site (

Break the Grip of the Rip™!

The national campaign – Break the Grip of the RipTM! Was launched at a news conference May 24, 2004, in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. A satellite broadcast available to media nationwide featured the personal story of Sandee LaMotte, whose husband, CNN bureau chief Larry LaMotte, died while trying to save his children from a rip current in Florida in 2003. The event also included the debut of the new products and comments from NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher and USLA President Chris Brewster, and representatives from other participating agencies. The message from the national task force was delivered to more than 15 million households as a result of television coverage at the launch event. CNN coverage included general network coverage, as well as special packages for 24 affiliates around the country. Other media coverage included print and radio, as well as online coverage, such as a special package on courtesy Dave Brenner)

Rip Current Awareness Week

NOAA has designated the week of June 5, 2005, as an inaugural national Rip Current Awareness Week. Thereafter, Rip Current Awareness Week will be held each year during the first full week of June. Local National Weather Service (NWS) offices plan to schedule local educational events and outreach activities related to rip current hazards. Additionally, NWS is working to further enhance national rip current awareness by featuring a rip current theme into the Mark Trail Sunday comics.

Outreach and Education Partnerships

Public education and outreach efforts regarding the dangers of rip currents have been widespread throughout shoreline states in the U.S., not only along ocean and Gulf coasts, but also along the Great Lakes shores. Sea Grant rip current outreach programs in Wisconsin, Florida, and North Carolina have been used as springboards for education and awareness projects in other states such as Delaware, New Jersey, and Michigan. Additionally, coordination and cooperation between Sea Grant programs and agencies – such as the NWS and USLA, along with local beach patrols, emergency response personnel, chambers of commerce and coastal communities – have resulted in effective educational campaigns on rip currents and other beach safety topics. Rip current awareness has become high priority issue in all coastal regions – a few examples are outlined below.

North Carolina: Since the 1970s, North Carolina Sea Grant has partnered with beach communities on a variety of rip current safety efforts, including posters and a video. The popularity of early products resulted in requests for additional formats – such as the 50,000 brochures distributed around the country through support of at least eight other Sea Grant programs.
In 2002, at the request of coastal public safety officers, the rip current safety message was designed for metal signs. Since then, beach towns from Corolla to Calabash have posted 600 of the signs at public access points. Many towns partnered with the NWS to cover the costs of the signs, while others sought funding from state agencies or local community organizations. Wrightsville Beach Chamber of Commerce leaders and town officials even asked for a large sticker version that could be attached to trash containers along the shoreline. The signs also were adapted for South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin, and several other Sea Grant programs have incorporated the graphics in various projects.

The public education campaign – which also included front-page stories in major North Carolina papers and mentions in media across the country – received a national APEX communications award.

North Carolina efforts continue. In particular, proactive community leaders in New Hanover and Dare counties have sought continued assistance from Sea Grant and NWS to get the beach safety message out to school children, residents and vacationers.
(Photos courtesy NC Sea Grant)

Delaware: Similarly, Delaware Sea Grant has worked with several coastal towns to place larger, interpretive signs about rip current safety on boardwalks, beaches, and lifeguard stands.

Another in novative program initiated by Delaware Sea Grant includes development of beach talk presentations, where information is presented about rip currents and other coastal hazards to small gatherings of homeowner associations or community groups right on the beach.

In addition, Sea Grant outreach programs in Delaware have extended to training efforts targeting beach patrols and lifeguards, who daily record observations on rip currents and coastal wave conditions. With the assistance of Dewey Beach Patrol and the Delaware State Police Aviation Unit, dye experiments and video recordings have documented rip current development.

Through a partnership program with various coastal communities and Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Delaware Sea Grant has developed colorful, weather-resistant signs to increase public awareness and understanding of a range of coastal topics. More than 130 signs have been produced on topics such as costal storms, sand dunes, and bottlenose dolphins. The sign project is designed to serve as a “boardwalk classroom” for visitors to the Delaware coast.


New Jersey: New Jersey Sea Grant has also partnered with regional, state and local partners to post rip current awareness signs at beach access points. Available in Spanish and English language versions, the sign catches the eye of beachgoers as they make their way across the sand to the water’s edge. Working with the New Jersey Department of Emergency Preparedness and other local partners, New Jersey Sea Grant delivered approximately 2,000 signs to coastal communities throughout the state. The signs will be posted at virtually every public beach access-way along the New Jersey shore. More than 40,000 copies of an accompanying full color brochure were also delivered to beach communities.

(NJ Sea Grant credit)

Michigan: Visitors to Great Lakes beaches are sometimes surprised to learn that rip currents are a serious coastal hazard along lake shorelines. In fact, rip currents pose a significant threat along any beach with breaking waves, including the Great Lakes. Many factors contribute to formation of dangerous rip currents in the Great Lakes, and research scientists and NWS forecasters are working to develop predictive forecast methodologies and indices for rip currents in the Great Lakes.

Working with community groups and other local and regional partners, Michigan Sea Grant has developed a water safety and rip current awareness campaign to prevent drowning incidents by alerting the public to the dangers of rip currents in the Great Lakes and providing information about how to escape them. The rip currents campaign message is directed toward all people who visit Michigan’s Great Lakes beaches during the summer, including coastal residents and tourists, especially swimmers.

Florida: Florida’s Coastal Management Program, with the state Department of Environmental Protection, has teamed with Florida Sea Grant and local government partners to educate Florida’s beachgoers about rip currents. More than 900 rip current education/awareness signs have been provided to beach municipalities for posting at beach access points, fences, or boardwalks. Additionally, more than 5,000 rip current brochures have been distributed to local government tourist councils for distribution.

Florida Sea Grant has been an active partner in promoting national level rip current education and awareness efforts, and has supported scientific investigations of rip currents. Sea Grant programs from Florida, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, Michigan, New Jersey, and Oregon, in conjunction with the Coastal Hazards Theme Team and the NWS, co-sponsored a rip current technical workshop in April 2004. The technical workshop improved communication and coordination of rip current research scientists, NWS meteorologists, and Sea Grant extension specialists, resulting in an improved national program to promote awareness of rip currents as a coastal hazard.





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