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Rip Currents

Learn about rip currents and what to do if you get caught in one…

What is a Rip Current ?

Often        mistakenly called undertows, these powerful currents pull even experienced        swimmers away from        shore. Panic and drowning often result. The        currents are formed when water rushes out to sea        in a narrow path. This happens when there is a break        in a nearshore sandbar or the current is diverted        by a groin, jetty or other barrier. Rip currents can extend 1,000 feet        offshore, reach 100 feet in width and travel up to 3 mph. Some are present        a few hours; others are permanent. Rip currents are more prevalent after        storms.

Telltale Signs of Rip Currents

  • A difference          in water color — either murkier from sediments or darker from greater          depth.
  • A difference in the waves —          larger, choppier waves in the rip          current; smaller, calmer waves in front of the bar.
  • Foam or          objects moving steadily seaward.
  • An offshore plume of turbid water          past the sandbars. Polarized sunglasses cut glare and help to spot rip          currents.
  • Opposing currents merge into each          other nearshore.
  • A break or gap in the offshore          sandbar.

What to Do!

If          you’re caught in a rip current, don’t panic or swim against          the current. Swim parallel to shore until you are out of          the current. Rip currents are rarely more than 30 feet wide. If you can’t          break out of the current, float calmly until it dissipates, usually just          beyond the breakers. Then swim diagonally to shore. If you don’t swim          well, stay in wading depths and watch for sudden drop-offs.

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