JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Each year the first full week of June is dedicated to the education of the public concerning rip currents. Rip currents affect our local beaches in Northeastern Florida and Southeastern Georgia.
According to the National Weather Service, "Rip currents are strong narrow currents moving away from shore. The strongest rip currents can attain speeds reaching 8 feet per second; this is faster than an Olympic swimmer can sprint! On average, more people die every year from rip currents than from shark attacks or lightning. According to the United States Lifesaving Association, 80 percent of surf beach rescues are attributed to rip currents, and more than 100 people die annually from drowning in rip currents."
Rip currents typically form along sandbars, where the shoreline is lower, or there are breaks in the consistency of the shoreline. Sometimes structures in the water add to the probability of a rip current forming. Signs that a rip current may exist in the water include, choppy or churning water channeling away from the shoreline, noticeable color difference in the water moving quickly away from the shoreline, debris, foam, or seaweed being pulled out to sea, or breaks in the oncoming wave pattern. Rip currents exist along every beach every day,but are most of the time far too weak to effect swimmers or be sensed. The strength of a rip current increases with wave height and wave period.
Rip currents become dangerous when their power pulls swimmers away from the shore. Often times, swimmers attempt to swim back towards the shore, against the pull of the rip current. That effort can prove futile and tire the swimmer, sometimes to the point of drowning. The swimmer pulled out by a rip current should swim parallel to the shoreline. As the swimmer moves parallel to the shoreline, he or she will eventually reach the end of the rip current and be able to swim back to the shore.