Rip Current Information

What are rip currents?
Rip currents are narrow, channeled water currents flowing away from the shore at surf beaches.

Where are rip currents formed?
Rip currents are commonly formed at low spots or breaks in sandbars and also near structures such as piers and jetties.

How do you identify rip currents?
Identifying a rip current is not always easy for the common beachgoer. The clues listed below may not always indicate the presence of rip currents, but you should be aware of this surf zone hazard for your safety. The clues are as follows:

  • A channel of churning, choppy water
  • A color change in a particular area
  • A line of seaweed, foam or debris moving gradually towards the sea
  • A break in the incoming wave pattern

When are rip currents most dangerous?
As the wave height and wave period increases during high surf conditions, rip currents are more likely to be dangerous. Rip currents can be found on surf beaches everyday at any time.

Do rip currents pull people under water?
No, rip currents pull people away form the shore not under water. It flows horizontal in an offshore direction.

If you are caught in a rip current, what should you do?
Don’t panic. Be calm and begin to swim parallel to the shoreline. When out of the current, swim to the shore. If you can’t swim out of the current, float or tread water. Face the shore, wave your hands and yell for help if it is impossible for you to reach the shore. Remember to remain calm.

Should you attempt to rescue a rip current victim yourself?
No, many people die trying to save others. Immediately call 9-1-1 if a lifeguard is not available. Throw the victim a flotation device if possible.

How do you avoid rip currents?

  • Always be alert and precautious at the beach. The following tips will help you be safe at in the water:
  • Learn to swim. Many victims of rip currents are weak or non-swimmers.
  • Always have a swimming buddy.
  • Learn to swim in surf; if you’ll be in surf…It is not like swimming in a pool or lake.
  • Swim near a lifeguard
  • Check signs and flags for beach conditions. Also check with a lifeguard and obey his/her instructions.
  • If you are not sure, don’t go in the water

Are rip tides and rip currents different?
Yes. Rip currents are commonly referred to as rip tides, but it is a major misconception. There are several terms used to identify rip currents such as: undertow and runouts. Different locations use different names, but the National Weather Service, Sea Grant and the USLA are making an effort to create common terminology so that there will be no confusion or underestimation.

For additional information on rip currents, please visit the National Weather Service Rip Current Safety Web site.