Visit Our Coronavirus (COVID-19)  Resource Section ⇒ X


Rip currents warning sign on the beach.

Rip Currents: What You Should Know

Author: Children's Surgical Specialty Group, Dr. Yifan Guo
Published Date: Tuesday, July 20, 2021

By Dr. Yifan Guo, Plastic and Oral Maxillofacial Surgery

Dr. Yifan Guo, a plastic surgeon in CHKD’s plastic and oral maxillofacial surgery program, is accustomed to helping children at CHKD, but he didn’t expect to be part of a different type of child rescue on his day off.

In this blog, Dr. Guo shares his experience helping a young girl get back to shore at Little Island Park in Sandbridge as a reminder to be careful when swimming and playing in the ocean and to watch out for rip currents. Also, people on the beach and piers, or in the water, should be on the lookout for people in trouble in the surf and get help from a lifeguard, or call 911.

I was surfing one weekend in May when another surfer called out to me.

Two young girls were on a boogie board dangerously close to a fishing pier. They also were drifting further out into the ocean. The other surfer had noticed them and asked if I could help bring them back to shore. It was the weekend before Memorial Day, so lifeguards weren’t on duty yet. The water was also quite cold, which made the circumstances more dire for the girls.

The girls were well beyond the pier by this time. The other surfer was able to reach one girl and bring her back to shore on his surfboard. The girl I approached was struggling on her boogie board. She climbed on my surfboard but kept slipping off. We were not making much progress getting back to shore, so I yelled out for assistance. A paddle boarder threw the leash from his board to me and, between the two of us, we were able to bring the girl to shore.

I was surprised how exhausting it was navigating the powerful elements of the ocean. People need to be aware of how dangerous it can be to get too far out or to get caught unexpectedly in a rip current. Also, parents should watch their children, even older ones. People who are on the beach and piers, or in the water, need to be on the lookout for people who are in trouble in the ocean, and call for a lifeguard or 911 when needed.

Here are some tips regarding rip currents:

Knowing what to do if you’re ever caught in a rip current may save your life or the life of someone in your family. Tragically, dozens of people of all ages drown every year after getting swept away from shore by a rip current.

Rip currents are fast-moving channels of water that often form near the beach. To the untrained eye, a rip current may appear to be a calm section of water flanked by breaking waves. When swimmers become caught in its current, they’re quickly pulled away from shore.

Unfortunately, the natural instinct to try to swim back to shore leads to many deaths. A rip current can move 8 feet per second, faster than an Olympic swimmer. Many swimmers drown from exhaustion trying to fight the current’s pull. When it’s early or late in the swimming season, the colder water temperatures present yet another danger, that of hypothermia.

  • Check the beach conditions before you head out the door. Many public beaches post weather conditions online. If there are warnings about rip currents, stay out of the water. Rip currents often occur at low tide. They can also form when the weather seems perfect.
  • Swim at a beach where there’s a lifeguard on duty, and stay in sight of the lifeguard. Water conditions can change quickly. Look for flags flying that indicate if there are rip currents, and observe any beach warning signs.
  • Don’t let anyone swim alone. Keep an eye on older children and teens no matter how well they can swim.
  • Make sure everyone takes a float with them into the water.
  • If you are caught up in a rip current, do not try to swim back to shore. Instead, make floating your top priority. As you float, call for help and wave your arms to alert people on shore. You may be able to escape by swimming out of the current in a direction following the shoreline, or toward breaking waves then at an angle toward the beach.
  • If you’re a strong swimmer, you may be able to swim parallel to shore and out of the rip current. Let the breaking waves carry you back to shore.
  • Rip currents do not pull people under the water. They pull people away from shore.
  • If you see someone trapped in a rip current, do not attempt a rescue. Get a lifeguard or call 911 for help. If a lifeguard is not available, throw something in the water that floats while you wait for rescue personnel to arrive.

Like this post?

Sign up to receive our once monthly email with more kids' health tips from the region's most trusted name in pediatric health care.

About Children's Surgical Specialty Group

About Children's Surgical Specialty Group  Our surgeons provide outstanding surgical services for children who come to our main hospital as well as those who come to our surgery centers. CHKD is a world leader in thoracic surgery and home to the Nuss Procedure to correct pectus excavatum. At CHKD, we treat the big things, the little things, and everything in between. Our surgical specialists treat children for a wide variety of conditions, from congenital to infectious to traumatic. All members of CHKD Surgical Group have met stringent requirements and received certifications in their specific area of pediatric surgery.