Heading to the beach this summer? NOAA and Sea Grant are urging beachgoers to learn how to “Break the Grip” of rip currents before getting into the water. Rip currents are a potentially deadly threat -- accounting for more than 80 percent of lifeguard beach rescues.
Rip currents are narrow channels of fast-moving water that pull swimmers away from the shore. They can occur at any of New York’s many beaches with breaking waves--from the ocean beaches of Coney Island or Jones Beach to the eastern shore of Lake Ontario.
Moving at speeds of up to eight feet per second, rip currents can move faster than an Olympic swimmer and can easily overpower a victim. Panicked swimmers often fail trying to counter the current by swimming straight back to shore — putting themselves at risk of drowning because of fatigue.
If caught in a rip current, don’t fight it! Swim parallel to the shore and then swim at an angle – away from the current – toward shore. New York Sea Grant coastal specialist Jay Tanski advises, “The best thing to do is to swim only where lifeguards are on duty unless you are experienced with identifying rip currents and know how to avoid them.”
“Education is critical, especially for those who visit the beach infrequently and may be unfamiliar with this leading surf hazard,” says Timothy Schott, meteorologist with the National Weather Service Marine and Coastal Branch. “As part of the NOAA Rip Current Awareness campaign, we have developed bilingual English-Spanish signs to reach a wider audience with life-saving instructions on how to break the grip.”
"Rip currents can be killers. The United States Lifesaving Association estimates that the annual number of deaths due to rip currents on our nation's beaches exceeds 100,” says Peter Davis, president of the Gulf Coast Region of the United States Lifesaving Association and chief of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol.
NOAA offers the following safety tips:
- Swim at lifeguard-protected beaches.
- Never swim alone.
- Speak to on-duty lifeguards about rip currents and other expected water hazards.
- Many coastal National Weather Service offices issue Surf Zone Forecasts providing a three-tiered structure of low, moderate and high to describe the rip current risk. All National Weather Service offices forecasting a moderate to high risk of rip currents include this information their Hazardous Weather Outlook. These forecast products are available online at www.weather.gov.
More safety tips and educational materials can be downloaded at http://www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov.
Videos featured above include: "The Grip of Rip Currents" (YouTube link), "Rip Currents in the Great Lakes" (YouTube link) and "What is a rip current?" (YouTube link)
Heading to the beach this summer? When going in for a swim, be alert to the signs of rip currents. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Sea Grant College Program remind you not to get dragged out to sea.
Pictured between the red arrows is a rip current, as seen from the beachgoer's perspective.
Beach warning flags come in a variety of colors, some of which are blank while others have symbols. The red, yellow, orange and green flags are warnings about the currents or surf. One or two red flags or a black flag means "high surf and no swimming," while green means "calm waters." Yellow signs report light surf or currents and advise caution.
Signs like this one at Ponquogue Beach in Hampton Bays, NY educate beach goers how to break the grip of a rip current if caught in one while swimming.
Sea Grant Press Releases and News: 2008-Present
Be Aware On and Beyond NOAA Sea Grant's National Rip Current Awareness Week and Beach Safety Week (June 2014)
NOAA and Sea Grant Raise Awareness of 'The Grip of the Rip' (June 2013)
Hurricane Leslie Brings High Rip Current Risk Alert to NY's Ocean Beaches (September 2012)
NYSG Partners in Mid-Atlantic, Great Lakes on Rip Currents Education (August 2012)
NYSG dives into Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance's City of Water Days; Provides educational materials on rip currents, severe storms, and More (July 2012)
On YouTube: Rip Currents in the Great Lakes (June 2012)
Rip Current Awareness Week is June 3-9: NOAA and Sea Grant Provide Resources (June 2012)
Sea Grant programs nationwide are NOAA partners helping prepare for 2012's Hurricane
Season; Rip currents on Long Island, Coastal flooding in New York City are concerns (May 2012)
New Brochure on Rip Currents and Other Beach Hazards (June 2010)
Rip Currents Can Be a Threat (June 2009)
Rip Currents Can Be a Threat (June 2008)
Publications and Related Media: 2008 - Present
Sea Grant & Rip Currents Awareness: Mid-Atlantic Regional Highlights (pdf) (July 2012)
Understanding Waves & Currents (pdf) (July 2012)
Rip Tide, Rip Current, Undertow: Knowing the Difference Could Save Your Life (pdf) [1.2 MB file] (July 2011)
Beach Hazards - What is Your Greatest Fear? (pdf) [1.3 MB file] (June 2010)
Newsday: As season opens, LI beaches ready (May 28, 2011)
Newsday: After drownings, lifeguards caution swimmers about ocean's dangers (May 27, 2010)
Newsday: Many South Shore ocean swimmers rescued from rip current (July 31, 2011)
NY Times: The Appeal and Danger of the Beach in the Dark (Aug 19, 2009)
NY Daily News: Rockaways' currents can be deadly if not treated with caution (Aug 19, 2009)
Newsday: Many South Shore ocean swimmers rescued from rip current (July 29, 2008)
Other NOAA and Sea Grant-Related Resources
NOAA's National Weather Service Rip Currents Web Site
Features include: A rip current overview; Links to real life rip current stories, media and educational tools including multimedia, beach safety tips, local weather and surf forecasts, cool photos, games and a glossary. Also available on the site are links to download full color brochures and signs in English and Spanish on rip current safety.
And new for 2011, a kids page, medical concerns, and 28 widgets offering lifesaving messages and safety tips. Look for the "Whistle For Life" with the Break The Grip of The Rip graphic. They'll be distributed by local coastal weather forecast offices and by lifeguards.
NOAA Ocean Service: Education - Coastal Currents
National Weather Service: Rip Current Safety - Photos
On YouTube: Sea Grant Cautions About Rip Currents (September 2010):