Breaking the Grip of Rip Currents
Beachgoers in Ocean City and Assateague Island will see a new warning
sign this summer. A total of 130 new metal signs, 115 at Ocean City and
15 at Assateague, will show swimmers how to escape the dangerous grip
of rip currents.
According to Tom Lott, an active member of the U.S. Lifesaving
Association in Ocean City, "These signs will definitely save some
Rip currents form when waves and water pile up near the beach and
suddenly seek a way back out to sea, forming rough plumes and taking
swimmers for a wild ride. If swimmers panic and try to swim back toward
shore against the current, they may become fatigued and overwhelmed.
Rip currents can travel up to eight feet per second, faster than even
Olympic champions can swim.
Lifeguards in the U.S. annually rescue tens of thousands of people
from rip currents, but it is estimated that every year 100 people drown
in these violent flows. Already the summer of 2006 has claimed one
life, lost to a rip current in Ocean City, according to Lott.
The rip current signs in Ocean City and Assateague were provided by
the Sea Grant program at the University of Maryland, as part of a
nationwide public information campaign spearheaded by the U.S.
Lifesaving Association and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA). NOAA funds Sea Grant research and education
programs at universities all around the nation.
The rip current signs carry a number of helpful messages, but most
important of all is the simple graphic that shows green arrows pointing a
swimmer toward the sides of the rip current. The picture quickly
communicates the message of swimming out and to the side - and not
against the current. The signs, along with other valuable information,
can be found on the web at: http://www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov.
- Jack Greer
When at the beach:
- Whenever possible,
swim at a lifeguard-protected beach.
- Never swim alone.
- Learn how to swim in the surf. It's not the same as swimming in a pool or lake.
- Be cautious at all times, especially when swimming at unguarded beaches. If in doubt, don’t go out.
- Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards.
- Stay at least 100 feet away from piers and jetties. Permanent rip currents often exist along side these structures.
- Pay especially close attention to children and elderly when at the
beach. Even in shallow water, wave action can cause loss of footing.
If caught in a rip current:
- Remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
- Never fight against the current.
- Think of it like a treadmill that cannot be turned off, which you need to step to the side of.
- Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline.
When out of the current, swim at an angle--away from the
- If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water. When out of the current, swim towards shore.
- If you are still unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself by waving your arm and yelling for help.
If you see someone in trouble, don't become a victim too:
- Get help from a lifeguard.
- If a lifeguard is not available, have someone call 9-1-1.
- Throw the rip current victim something that floats--a lifejacket, a cooler, an inflatable ball.
- Yell instructions on how to escape.
Many people drown while trying to save someone else from a rip current.