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Beach Safety: How to Handle Rip Currents

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Picture this. You’re at the beach and going for a swim. The waves are rolling in and pounding against the shore. Birds are flying overhead. Everything is perfect.

Then you decide to swim to shore to lay out on the beach and you discover that you can’t get out of the ocean. There’s a powerful current pushing you out deeper and deeper. You try to swim against it, but quickly tire. Panic sets in. That’s when you remember something you heard somewhere along the line and you realize you’re in a rip current.

Rip currents are powerful currents of water that run perpendicular to the coast. These channels move faster than an Olympic swimmer and are responsible for the drowning deaths of more than 100 people every year.

At Folly Beach, visitors and locals alike find themselves in rip currents every year. They’re dangerous and natural occurrences, and they get especially dangerous when oceanic storms are forming (but they exist all year long, so don’t think a sunny day means there is no risk).

The rip current can be very narrow or extend a few yards. Swimming parallel to shore helps anyone stuck in the grips of a rip current to escape its power and get into safer water. If you can’t swim parallel to shore, float or tread water in the rip current until help arrives.

If you see someone stuck in a rip current, call 911 immediately. Do not attempt to swim through the current to save another person. Doing so could result in a tragedy for everyone involved. Instead, encourage the person to swim parallel to shore.

Important Info about Rip Currents:

  • At up to eight feet per second, rip currents move faster than Olympian swimmers.
  • Each year, more than 100 people die in rip-current related accidents.
  • Lifeguards save thousands of swimmers each year from rip currents.
  • A rip current is not the same as a rip tide. Rip tides are associated with the swift movement of tidal water through inlets and the mouths of estuaries and harbors. They are particular dangerous during tide changes.
  • Rip currents are the most common in low spots or breaks near sandbars.
  • Rip currents can be very narrow, but some are a few yards wide. Don’t panic if you get stuck in the grip. Try floating or treading water until help arrives.
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