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Following Monday's decision by the city of Gulf Shores to close its public beaches in the wake of four drownings in less than a day, we wanted to know more about rip currents and how to survive if a swimmer finds themselves in one.
To understand how to survive a rip current, it's important to know what they are.
As waves travel from deep to shallow water, they break near the shoreline. However, when waves break strongly in some places and weaker in other places, it can cause a circulation under the water that are fast-moving belts traveling offshore.
How fast are those belts of water moving? Typically, around 1 to 2 feet per second but they can move as fast as 8 feet per second. That's faster than an Olympic swimmer!
Rip currents can be silent killers and can appear even in waters that appear relatively calm. If it can move faster than an Olympic swimmer, it can certainly sweep a less skilled or weaker swimmer out to open waters where their chances of drowning greatly increase.
HOW DO YOU AVOID OR ESCAPE A RIP CURRENT?
Never swim alone.
Be cautious at all times, especially when swimming at unguarded beaches. If in doubt, don't go out!
Whenever possible, swim at a lifeguard protected beach.
Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards.
If caught in a rip current, remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
Don't fight the current. Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim 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: face the shore, wave your arms, and yell 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.
Remember, many people drown while trying to save someone else from a rip current.
How to Identify Rip Currents
Look for any of these clues:
a channel of churning, choppy water
an area having a notable difference in water color
a line of foam, seaweed, or debris moving steadily seaward
a break in the incoming wave pattern
None, one, or more of the above clues may indicate the presence of rip currents. Rip currents are often not readily or easily identifiable to the average beachgoer. For your safety, be aware of this major surf zone hazard. Polarized sunglasses make it easier to see the rip current clues provided above.
INFORMATION SOURCE: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration