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Rip Current Safety

By Dr. Christopher Meeks, Pediatric Associates 

A relaxing day at the beach can suddenly turn deadly if you’re caught in a rip current.

Knowing how to spot a rip current and understanding what to do if you’re ever caught in one 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.

A fast-moving channel of water that often forms near the beach, rip currents are deceiving. 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.

In 2018, more than 65 people died after getting swept away in a rip current, according to National Weather Service statistics. About half of the deaths occurred during June, July, and August.

If you’re headed to the beach this summer, there are several steps you can take to avoid rip currents and increase your chance of survival.

  • 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. Water conditions can change. Look for flags flying that indicate if there are rip currents.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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About CHKD Medical  Group Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters has been the region’s most trusted name in pediatric care for more than 50 years. As members of CHKD Health System, our pediatricians work closely with CHKD’s full range of pediatric specialists and surgeons. They also share a commitment to quality, excellence and child-centered care. With 18 practices in 29 locations throughout the region, a CHKD pediatrician is never far.