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What is a rip current, and how to protect yourself if you get caught in one

Posted at 8:35 PM, Jun 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-22 21:03:27-04

NEW YORK — As temperatures heat up, many are taking to the beach to cool off. But before you go for a swim, there are a few things you should know about the dangers of rip currents, and what to do if you or someone you know gets caught in one.

Rip currents are fast moving channels of water that extend close to the shoreline, through the surf and pass the breaking waves.

The National Weather Service puts out a rip current risk forecast every day. These updates are based on wave patterns, ocean swells, wind speed, wind direction and location.

Rocky areas and jetties, landing stages or small piers tend to produce stronger channels — stronger rip currents.

It’s not easy to see them unless you’re elevated. Lifeguards are positioned high enough to be able to spot those brakes in the waves that sometimes result in white caps.

According to United States Lifesaving Association (USLA), rip currents account for 80% of beach rescue.

With COVID-19 still very much a concern, lifeguards are faced with the challenge of making rescues at a safe distance. They direct beach goes away from danger zones.

In the event of a someone is in distress, lifeguards use a device similar to a surfboard. It allows them to safely pull the swimmer back to shore at a safe distance.

If you get caught in a rip current, stay calm. Fighting it will only make you tired. It won’t pull you under water, but it does have the power to pull you away from shore, one lifeguard said.

Also, wave and shout to get a lifeguard’s attention, and float, he said. You can also swim parallel to shore until you break free from the current, he added. The waves will eventually push you back to shore.

If you see someone in trouble, don’t attempted the rescue yourself. You can throw in a flotation device and call for help.

Check the local beach forecast, always swim near lifeguards, and look out for warning flags.