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Rip Currents Can Be a Threat
Coastal Processes & Hazards - Press Advisory

NOAA and Sea Grant Remind Beachgoers: Rip Currents Can Be a Threat

Stony Brook, NY, June 01, 2009 - Heading to the beach this weekend? 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.

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