Rip Current Awareness Week begins June 7

June 01, 2009

By Cindie Powell

The Texas Sea Grant College Program wants every beach visitor to understand the danger of rip currents and know how to survive an encounter with these dangerous, fast-moving currents.

Texas Sea Grant is joining other components of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), including the National Weather Service, and the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) to promote Rip Current Awareness Week June 7-13, 2009.

A rip current is a horizontal current. It does not pull people under the water, it pulls people away from shore. Drowning deaths occur when people pulled offshore are unable to keep themselves afloat and swim to shore because of panic, exhaustion or lack of swimming skills.

Rip currents 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. They typically extend from the shoreline, through the surf zone, and past the line of breaking waves. They can occur at any beach with breaking waves and are frequently found near manmade structures like piers, groins and jetties and at low spots or breaks in sandbars. They are most likely to be dangerous during high surf conditions.

NOAA and USLA urge beachgoers to swim at lifeguard-protected beaches whenever possible. Rip currents account for more than 80 percent of rescues performed by surf beach lifeguards.

They also recommend that anyone going into the water learn how to swim and never swim alone; learn how to swim in surf, which is different from swimming in a pool or lake; be cautious at all times, especially when swimming at unguarded beaches; obey all instructions and warnings from lifeguards; and pay particularly close attention to children and the elderly when at the beach — even in shallow water, wave action can cause a loss of footing.

If you are caught in a rip current, remember the following safety tips:
          • Remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
          • Never fight against the current.
          • Think of it like a treadmill that cannot be turned off. You need to move to the side of it instead of struggling against it.
          • Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim at an angle — away from the current — toward shore.
          • If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water. When out of the current, swim toward shore.
          • If you feel you will be unable to reach the shore, draw attention to yourself by waving your arms and yelling for help.

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, throw the victim something that floats — a lifejacket, a cooler or an inflatable ball — yell instructions on how to escape and have someone call 9-1-1.

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. Polarized sunglasses that cut down on glare can help in spotting these characteristics. However, these signs are not always visible. Many National Weather Service offices release a Surf Zone Forecast that includes a daily rip current outlook.

For more information about rip currents, including graphics and posters showing how to escape from them, visit NOAA’s web site at www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov. Texas Sea Grant also has English/Spanish posters, table tents and brochures about rip currents available at sgpublications@tamu.edu or by calling (979) 862-3767.

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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.