There are two storms headed toward the East Coast – Tropical Depression Erin and Hurricane Dorian – which could churn up the ocean over the next several days, leading to dangerous rip currents for swimmers. The American Red Cross wants everyone to be safe at the beach and has steps you should follow if caught in a rip current.
Swimmers are urged to swim only at a beach with a lifeguard and obey all instructions from the lifeguards. The United States Lifesaving Association estimates that rip currents account for more than 80% of rescues performed by surf beach lifeguards.
WHAT ARE RIP CURRENTS? They are powerful currents of water flowing away from shore. Rip currents usually extend from the shoreline past the line of breaking waves, and can occur at any beach with breaking waves, even on large lakes.
Be aware of the danger of rip currents and remember the following:
- Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards and ask them about local conditions.
- If you plan to swim in the ocean, learn how to swim in the surf. Swim only at a beach with a lifeguard, within the designated swimming area.
- If you are caught in a rip current, try not to panic.
- Signal to those on shore that you need assistance.
- Swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current.
- Once you are free, turn and swim toward shore.
- If you can't swim to the shore, float or tread water until you are free of the rip current and then head toward shore.
- Stay at least 100 feet away from piers and jetties. Permanent rip currents often exist near these structures.
- If you see someone in trouble, 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 and yell instructions on how to escape. It’s important to know that people can drown while trying to save someone else from a rip current.
- Ensure that everyone in the family becomes water competent. That is, learn to swim well, know your limitations and how to recognize and avoid hazards, and understand how to help prevent and respond to emergencies around water.
- Adults should actively supervise children and stay within arm’s reach of young children and newer swimmers. Kids should follow the rules.
- Fence your pool in with four-sided fencing that is at least four-feet in height and use self-closing, self-latching gates.
- Always wear your U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket when on a boat and if in a situation beyond your swimming skill level.
- Swim as a pair near a lifeguard’s chair – everyone, including experienced swimmers, should swim with a buddy in areas protected by lifeguards. If in a location with no lifeguards, such as a residential pool, designate a “Water Watcher” to keep a close eye and constant attention on children in and around the water.
LEARN TO SWIM Whether you’re going to be in or around the water, it’s important to be water competent. The Red Cross offers swim classes for people of all ages and abilities. Find out more here. We also have a Swim App which promotes water safety education and helps parents and caregivers of young people learning how to swim. The app has features specifically designed for children, including a variety of kid-friendly games, videos and quizzes. Download the app by searching for ‘American Red Cross’ in your app store or at redcross.org/apps.