Embracing the warmth of the Carolina sun at the beach is incomparable. Engaging in saltwater play and sandcastle building with loved ones fills the day with joy. Yet, amidst the bliss, it’s crucial to acknowledge potential risks. Rip currents, jellyfish stings, and sunburns are all concerns to address before hitting the sand. Discover below our top advice for recognizing and navigating rip currents at any beach destination.

What are rip currents?

Rip currents are created as waves travel from deep to shallow water, breaking near the shoreline. When those waves break strongly in some locations, and weakly in others, this can cause circulation cells which are seen as rip currents. Rip currents can be defined as narrow, and fast-moving, belts of water traveling offshore. Due to the nature of rip currents, the water can travel at speeds of three to six feet per second. According to the United States Lifesaving Association over 100 people die each year due to rip currents.

Identifying A Rip Current

Rip currents are often identifies using GPS drifter floats, releasing dyes into the water, and with the use of technological instruments. However, with a simple trick, you’ll be able to spot a rip current with just your eyes. What you’ll need to watch for is the patterns of the waves as they break along the shore.

Rip currents can be identified using complicated instrumentation, GPS-equipped drifter floats, or even by releasing colored dye into the waters around the surf zone. But a simple trick to spot rip currents is to watch for the patterns of wave breaking visible from the shore. Below are a few tips to identifying a rip current.

Rip Current Signs

  • White foam versus dark blue water
    • When looking at the shore, it will be easy to see the high contrast of white foamy water and dark, deep, blue water. This color difference is most important to viewing dangerous rip currents from the beach.
  • Dark means deep
    • The areas of the water that appear dark blue signifies a deeper portion of water. This deep, and flat, water is where fast currents can build.
  • White foamy water
    • The white foamy areas of the water are a sign of gentle breaks within the waves. Beach goers should remember that you can head toward the surf in order to be less likely of encountering a rip current.

Rip Current Advisories

Rip currents can build on any beach and at any time, however, there are some things to think about before swimming in the ocean. Jetties and piers often cause permanent rip currents. Due to this, swimming should be done at least 100 feet from these structures to avoid getting caught in the current. Rip currents are also more likely to happen during low tide when waves break against the sandbars. If you are in an area with a significant sandbar, combined with low tide, be aware of strong rip currents. In combination with this knowledge, before swimming be sure to check local weather and rip current advisories. For reference, take a look at the video below for a quick visual representation of the above information.

Escaping A Rip Current

Although preparation, and knowledge, of spotting a rip current is helpful there is still a chance one is encountered. Whether is wasn’t spotted or it took someone by surprise, it is best to know how to escape a rip current. Below are some tips to keep in mind if trying to escape a rip current.

Image from North Carolina Sea Grant, https://ncseagrant.ncsu.edu/ripcurrents/

  • Remain calm and don’t fight the current.
    • You will need to conserve your energy to help get out of the rip current.
  • Fighting the current will not work and will only deplete your energy quickly.
    • Instead of fighting the rip current, swim parallel to the shore. This will not bring you closer to shore but it will bring you to a safer location within the water.
  • Once out of the current, swim back to shore at an angle following the breaking waves.
    • As mentioned above, breaking waves can be spotted by the white foamy water. These waves will help guide you to shore. However, an angle is the best approach as trying to swim directly to shore will still tire you out quicker.
  • If you feel like you are unable to swim, draw attention to yourself by yelling and waving your arms while you float.
    • In this last resort situation, it is best to conserve your energy and remain afloat while lifeguards, or rescue crews, make their way to you in the water.

Watch this video by Ocean Today for more information on Rip Currents

Contact Us

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.