Keeping summer swimming safe: Raising rip current awareness

New York – When people think of the Coast Guard saving lives, the image that comes to mind is one of assisting boaters or merchant mariners in peril. Many times each year the Coast Guard also searches for swimmers swept out to sea by a threat that affects all swimmers: rip currents.

The United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) estimates that over 100 people drown each year in rip currents off our nation’s beaches, and rip currents account for over 80% of rescues performed by surf beach lifeguards. A rip current can form at any beach where there are waves, this includes along the Great Lakes‘ shores. Visit rip currents  to learn more about how rip currents are formed and act.

Rip currents do not pull you under the water, but they can pull you hundreds of yards away from shore. Think of it like a treadmill that you cannot turn off. To get off that treadmill you have to step onto the railing to the side of the belt. So too must you swim to the outer sides of a rip current to escapes its powerful clutches. Inexperienced swimmers panic and fight against the rip current, tiring themselves out and drown.

Every year, families grieve over loved ones who are lost to these strong and sudden changes in current. As a lifejacket can help to save your life during a boating accident, knowing how to recognize and survive a rip current can help to save your life too.

According to the National Weather Service, if waves are breaking but there is a section of bubbly white water that extends far from the beach, this can be a sign of a rip current. Oftentimes there will be seaweed steadily drifting out to sea. Another sign of a rip current will be a distinct physical appearance of breaking waves in one area.

Whenever possible, swim at a lifeguard-protected beach and never swim alone. Stay at least 100 feet away from piers and jetties. Permanent rip currents often exist alongside these structures. Pay especially close attention to children and elderly when at the beach. Even in shallow water, wave action can cause loss of footing.

If caught in a rip current:

* Don’t panic! Never fight against the current; it will only tire you out faster.
* Keep your eyes focused on land. This will keep you from becoming disoriented and give you a direction.
* Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim at an angle–away from the current–towards shore.
* If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water. When out of the current, swim towards shore.
* If you are still unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself by waving your arm and yelling for help.

If you see someone in trouble, get help from a lifeguard. If a lifeguard is not available, have someone call 9-1-1 . Throw the rip current victim something that floats and yell instructions on how to escape. Maintain visual contact as long as you can. Oftentimes when witnesses try to save a victim, they too become a victim.

The Coast Guard urges anyone taking to the beaches this summer to swim at beaches with active duty life guards and to educate themselves on this danger. Most importantly, discuss with your children the dangers of rip currents and tips to surviving rip currents.

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