October 01, 2001
Meetings & Conventions: Short Cuts October 2001 Current Issue
October 2001
Short Cuts:Current events

Nothing can ruin a day at the beach quite like a rip current. The powerful flow of these treacherous, narrow bands of water can pull swimmers far out to sea and result in about 100 drownings annually in this country, and they constitute a large part of lifeguards' business: As many as 80 percent of more than 23,000 rescues each year at U.S. beaches are due to rip currents, estimates the United States Lifesaving Association (

In an effort to increase public awareness, the National Weather Service has launched a pilot program that provides daily TV broadcasts and twice-daily Internet updates pinpointing rip currents from Dare County, N.C., to Myrtle Beach, S.C. ( Similar programs are being explored in Michigan, where rip currents occur in the Great Lakes, and in Florida.

In other areas, swimmers can scan for these visual signs of a rip current:

  • If the water is clear, a rip might appear darker than the surrounding water.
  • Turbidity within a rip might give the current a muddy appearance.
  • In heavy surf, foam might appear along the neck and head of the current.
  • There might be seaweed along a rip, or the water itself might seem to be flowing seaward.
  • Those caught in a rip current are advised to swim calmly, parallel to the shore, until the current relaxes, and then head to shore. If necessary, float along the current until it weakens, usually just beyond the breakers, then swim diagonally to shore.

    Other smart precautions: Stay close to the beach, swim only in lifeguard-protected areas, and never swim while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.


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