Rip Current Awareness – How to Spot One and What to Do

Many of us have heard of Rip Currents – channels of water moving back out to sea that develop in an opening in a sand bar. Did you know that you can often identify their location from the shore? Look for an area of murky water where sediment has been mixing as the channel opened in the sandbar. If the rip current has lasted a long time, the color of the water will appear darker than the surrounding water because of the channel carved by the flowing water. Rip currents will also move objects and/or foam steadily seaward and will cause a break in the incoming wave pattern.The Area Between the Arrows is What a Rip Current Looks Like from the Beach (Photo courtesy of NOAA.gov)

Stronger when the surf is rough and when the tide is low, rip currents can reach speeds faster than people can swim. They can also give the illusion of the water being calmer since they occur in a break in the sand bar and tend to dampen waves. If you prefer to swim near a lifeguard, you will find them at the Lighthouse Beach in Buxton and Coquina Beach, 9am – 5pm, seven days a week.

What should you do if you’re caught in a Rip Current?

  • Remain calm. Remember, rip currents can pull a swimmer away from the shore but not under the water.
  • Swim parallel to the shore until you break free, then swim diagonally toward the shore. Do not attempt to swim directly back toward the shore
  • If you cannot swim out of the current, float until it weakens, then swim diagonally toward the shore.
  • Ask for help by waving your hands.

Please keep in mind the following Safety Tips:

  • Stay out of the water during dangerous surf conditions.
  • Know how to swim. Non-swimmers should not rely on floats, such as boogie boards, while in deep water.
  • Locate rip currents before entering the water.
  • Tune in to NOAA weather radio and monitor websites (National Weather Service, Eastern Dare County, NC) and local media for updated surf conditions during your stay on the Outer Banks.
  • Do not attempt to rescue someone caught in a rip current. If there is no lifeguard, yell directions on how to escape, throw the victim something that floats (a boogie board, or even a cooler) and call 911.
  • As you walk out to the beach, be sure to make note of what street or ramp you are nearest in case you have to notify emergency personnel of your location.

For more information on rip currents, check the website at http://www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov.