With summer approaching, everyone is heading to the beach. However, in the past couple of months alone, there have been several drownings across the Gulf Coast.
Around 100 people in the U.S. die annually as a result of rip current drownings, and Dauphin Island alone sees 2-3 drownings per season. It’s important to educate yourself and others about the dangers of rip currents, how to avoid them and how to escape them if you should ever find yourself caught in one.
So, what is a rip current?
Rip currents are strong, narrow currents of water that can be found on virtually any beach and can be more than 50 yards wide. Contrary to popular belief, rip currents do not pull people underwater. Instead, they pull people away from shore.
The three most common types of rip currents include channelized currents, which are found between sandbars; boundary currents, which are found against headlands and structures like jetties and piers; and flash currents, which are unpredictable, and form when there is an increase in wave size or frequency.
The proactive way to avoid being caught in a rip current is to check warning flags before going swimming at the beach. Dauphin Island installed 4 warning flags in April as a way to warn beachgoers of potential danger from currents and marine life. Additionally, the Dauphin Island Public Safety Facebook page offers daily updates on weather and water conditions.
When you’re at the beach, you should also know how to identify rip currents. It’s a common myth that rip currents only occur when rough water and large waves are present.
A clear indication of a rip current is an area of calm water, surrounded by breaking waves.
Rip currents tend to be characterized by a darker color due to carrying large amounts of sand and sediment. You can also identify a rip current by looking for lines of foam, seaweed and debris being carried out to sea.
If you happen to get caught in a rip current, you should never try to fight the current. Instead, swim parallel to the shore until you escape the channel of the rip current. Then, swim at an angle away from the rip current and toward the shore.
If someone else is caught in a rip current, you should try to throw something that floats to them and yell instructions to the victim, who may not be familiar with rip currents or how to escape them. Taking a few moments to educate yourself about this deadly, global phenomenon and sharing the information you learn with family and friends could likely save your life and/or someone else’s.