What to Know About Rip Currents

February 22, 2018

What to Know About Rip Currents

When you’re enjoying the Outer Banks’ beaches, the last things you want to worry about are rip currents. That’s why learning about how to spot—and escape—a rip current before you’re on the beach is a great idea. Because although they’re intimidating, they’re also avoidable and escapable. And even if you’re not much of an ocean swimmer, knowing these tips may help someone else.

What are rip currents?

Rip Current Diagram

Source: National Geographic

In order to best understand how to avoid and escape rip currents, first, you’ve got to know what they are—which is powerful currents that flow perpendicular to the beach and out toward the ocean. They typically form near low areas or breaks in sandbars and around piers and jetties. With an average speed of 1-2 feet per second and a width of fewer than 80 feet, rip currents can pull you out to sea before you have a chance to realize what’s happening.

How do I escape a rip current?

The first course of action to take when you find yourself in a rip current is to remain calm. The current may pull you sideways before it pulls you out to sea. Panicking and thrashing can cause you to get caught in the current’s undertow and then you’re really out of luck. The best thing you can do is to relax your body, which will help you float on top of the current. As the current flows farther from shore, it weakens and is much easier to escape. In order to get out of a rip current, swim parallel to the shore. Since the currents are less than 80 feet wide (about a quarter of a football field), you won’t have to swim far to reach calmer waters.

Can I spot a rip current?

Avalon Pier Outer Banks NC

Since rip currents form near sandbars, piers, and jetties, keep an eye out in these areas in particular. What are you looking for exactly? You might see a muddy streak in the water or breaks between groups of waves. Rip currents aren’t always easy to spot when you’re standing level on the beach, however, which is why it’s a good idea to follow lifeguard warnings. They’ll have red flags up to designate where there is a rip current. And since the Outer Banks has an abundance of lifeguarded beaches, staying safe is easy.

 

Sources:

NOAA

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