Discovery Channel’s Shark Week may educate viewers on the dangers of swimming in shark-infested waters, but a bigger concern should be the risk of drowning at the beach, particularly when waters are ferocious.
You may have noticed the green, yellow and red flags lifeguards post to reflect how safe the water’s current conditions are. While the ocean is unpredictable, and hazards may still exist with green flags, it’s typically best to avoid going in the water at all unless the safe green flag is out. If you are too go in the water under less than ideal conditions, you must be a strong swimmer.
More than 80 percent of beach rescues are caused by rip currents, also known as riptides and undertows. Whenever a wave breaks, the water must be pulled back to the shore, which is where currents come in. These currents can be particularly strong, especially before, during and after severe weather, and can be powerful enough to drag even the strongest swimmers far out to sea.
Not to fret though; you can usually avoid drowning if you have an understanding of how they work. Follow some of our tips to avoid getting caught in a rip current, and surviving one if you do!
Avoid swimming in beaches without a lifeguard present
This may be one of the most obvious suggestions, but you really are on your own if a lifeguard isn’t present, which can cause more panic if anything happens. It’s also highly recommended to avoid swimming alone, both children and adults!
Avoid swimming near jetties, piers or anything causing a break in the beach
Regardless of whether conditions, permanent rip currents reside in these areas. Most of these currents don’t extend beyond 100 feet, so it’s best to stay that same distance distance away from them.
Keep feet planted on sea floor
If you are a weaker swimmer, it’s best to keep within range to where your feet can be planted on the sea floor. Gentle currents exist throughout the beach, but the ability to anchor one’s self prevents being dragged out in most cases.
If caught, try not to fight against the current
When one realizes they have been caught in a strong rip current, their first instinct is often to fight it and swim straight back towards the shore. Generally, doing this will only burn energy and wear your out. Although being dragged out so far away from shore can be scary, it’s best to let nature do it’s thing and carry you out. Remaining calm is important.
When carried out, swim at an angle back to shore
Once the ride out to sea is over, you can begin to swim at a specific angle back. You should swim parallel to the shore for about 100 feet, and then proceed swimming back inland. Even for strong swimmers, this process can be exhausting. If you feel yourself running out of energy, let yourself float or tread water. Once you regain energy, continue swimming back.
If you can’t swim anymore, call for help
Wave your arms and call out to the lifeguard if you run out of energy. Do whatever you need to in order to draw attention to yourself.