Make this Summer’s Trip to the Beach a Safe One

March 31, 2006

By Cindie Powell

Rip currents can turn a fun day at the beach into tragedy.

These fast-moving currents of water cause at least 100 deaths each year at United States coastal and Great Lakes beaches and can sweep even the strongest swimmer out to sea. The strongest and most dangerous rip currents frequently form near man-made structures like jetties, piers and seawalls.

Texas Sea Grant, in partnership with the National Sea Grant College Program, the National Weather Service (NWS) and the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA), is participating in a national public awareness campaign to educate beachgoers about the dangers of rip currents. The “Break the Grip of the Rip” campaign is designed to make beach activities safer and promote the use of rip current forecasts in local weather forecasts and warnings. In conjunction with the campaign, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the parent agency of both NWS and Sea Grant, will hold its second annual Rip Current Awareness Week June 4-10, 2006.

The campaign recommends that beachgoers learn how to swim and never swim alone; be cautious at all times, especially when swimming at unguarded beaches; and whenever possible, swim at lifeguard-protected beaches and obey all instructions from lifeguards.

If you are caught in a rip current, Texas Sea Grant and USLA recommend the following strategy: 
          • Remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
          • Don’t fight the current by trying to swim straight to shore.
          • Escape the current by swimming in a direction following the shoreline. When free of the current, swim at an angle — away from the current — toward shore.
          • If you are unable to escape by swimming, float or tread water. When the current weakens, swim at an angle away from the current toward shore.
          • If you feel you will be unable to reach the shore, draw attention to yourself — face the shore and call or wave for help.

Some clues that may indicate the presence of a rip current include a channel of churning, choppy water; an area with a noticeable difference in water color; a line of foam, seaweed or debris moving steadily seaward; and a break in the incoming wave pattern. However, these signs are not always visible.

Many people have died trying to rescue rip current victims. If you see someone in trouble, get help from a lifeguard. If there is no lifeguard, yell instructions on how to escape, throw the victim something that floats and have someone call 9-1-1.

In some locations in South Texas, be aware that near piers and jetties rip currents can be associated with looping or circling currents. Other factors that can increase the danger include consuming excessive alcoholic beverages before swimming or being unaware of the coastline’s system of sandbars with sudden deep troughs. Texas’ strong longshore current, which contributes to rip current formation, can also be a danger by itself, especially to young children. 

English/Spanish brochures, posters and table tents about rip currents are available from Texas Sea Grant at sgpublications@tamu.edu or by calling (979) 862-3767. Additional information about rip currents is also available at www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov.

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Texas Sea Grant is a unique partnership that unites the resources of the federal government, the State of Texas and universities across the state to create knowledge, tools, products and services that benefit the economy, the environment and the citizens of Texas. It is administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is one of 33 university-based Sea Grant Programs around the country. Texas Sea Grant is a non-academic research center in the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M University. The program’s mission is to improve the understanding, wise use and stewardship of Texas coastal and marine resources.