How to survive a rip current

Published: 8/4/2009 12:00 AM

What is a rip current:

A rip current is a rapidly-moving channel of water flowing away from the shore of any body of water that has waves breaking against a beach, shore or sandbar, including all of the Great Lakes. Churning, choppy water, lines of debris traveling in the same direction, or water of a different color can indicate the location of a rip current. The reverse pull of the water can be so strong that a swimmer, even pushing with 100 percent effort, can be sucked away from shore at a rate as fast as 8 feet per second. Rip currents do not pull swimmers under the water, only away from the shore. Exhaustion from fighting the current is what causes most drowning deaths. Rip currents are, by far, the No. 1 cause of rescue efforts initiated by lifeguards at beaches.

Avoiding a rip current

1. Learn how to swim, and never swim alone. Swimming in a body of water with waves and currents is different than swimming in a pool.

2. Stay at least 100 feet away from piers. Permanent rip currents often exist around these structures.

If you're caught in a rip current:

1. Remain calm and don't waste energy by trying to swim directly against the pull of the current.

2. Swim out of the current by traveling in an angle, parallel to the shore and away from the rip current. Think of it like stepping off a treadmill while the treadmill is still moving.

3. If you cannot escape the current, float or tread water with it until it's pull stops. Then begin swimming to shore. If you can't make the shore, yell and wave your arms to signal for help.

What to do if you see someone caught in a rip current

1. Protect yourself first. Getting caught in the current yourself only creates another potential victim.

2. Get a lifeguard or call 911.

3. Throw the victim anything that will float and help keep the swimmer alive.

4. Shout instructions to the swimmer about what to do to get out of the current.

SOURCE: National Weather Service Rip Current Safety Tips