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It’s beach season, and if you’re headed to one of our nation’s shores, you’re not alone. Over 385 million people visit America’s beaches each year to enjoy the sun and sand, but--here’s a scary statistic--about 76,000 of those revelers will require the assistance of their local lifeguards.
Many of those incidents are due to swimmer fatigue as a result of an active rip current. In fact, the United States Lifesaving Association estimates that nearly 80 percent of ocean rescues are due to rip currents.
Here’s what you need to know about the phenomenon, as well as what to do if you are caught in one.
What Are Rip Currents?
Rip currents are a channel of water that appears just below the surface with the potential to carry you away from the shoreline and make it difficult to swim back. They extend beyond the area where surfers most commonly catch their waves, and can travel as many as 8 feet per second.
Rip currents most commonly appear in areas where the water suddenly deepens in an otherwise shallow area, or where an obstruction causes waves to intensify. These areas include a break in a sandbar, a jetty or near a man-made structure. Though rip currents are most commonly associated with the ocean, they can appear in any large body of water with breaking waves. In America, this includes the Great Lakes.
Avoiding and Escaping Rip Currents
On guarded beaches, lifeguards keep a close eye on the water conditions and often mark potential or existing rip currents with flags. Be sure to avoid those areas, as well as anything within 10 feet of man-made structures, jetties or areas with a history of rip currents.
If you begin to feel yourself being carried away from the shoreline but are not able to swim against the current, you may be in one of these channels. In a rip current it is important to remain calm. Frantically flailing will create stress, make you lose your breath faster and drain your energy.
Instead, try to swim parallel to the shoreline until you are able to escape the current, or tread water until you reach the end of the current and can swim back to shore. If neither of these is possible or you’re too tired to reach the shore, be sure to wave your arms whenever it is safe to do so to draw attention to yourself.
If you notice someone else caught in a rip current, do not attempt to swim to them. Instead, flag down a lifeguard or throw the person a floatation device. With the assistance of a float, the person will not become overtired and may be able to swim back under their own power.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding your health, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician.
Inspira Health is a high reliability organization (HRO), which means safety is the top priority for patients and staff. To make an appointment, call 1-800-INSPIRA.