CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Rip currents can be killers as they are the leading surf hazard and are particularly dangerous for weak or non-swimmers. Rip currents account for over 80% of rescues performed by surf beach lifeguards.
The drowning deaths occur when people, pulled away from shore from the current, are unable to keep themselves afloat and swim to shore. This may be due to any combination of fear, panic, exhaustion, or lack of swimming skills.
Because rip currents move perpendicular to shore and can be very strong, beach swimmers need to be careful. A person caught in a rip can be swept away from shore very quickly.
Rip currents most typically form at low spots or breaks in sandbars, and also near structures such as groins, jetties and piers. Normally, rip currents are narrow but can sometimes be wider and extend in widths to hundreds of yards. The seaward pull of rip currents varies: sometimes the rip current ends just beyond the line of breaking waves, but sometimes rip currents continue to push hundreds of yards offshore.
The best way to escape a rip current is by swimming parallel to the shore instead of towards it, since most rip currents are less than 80 feet wide. A swimmer can also let the current carry him or her out to sea until the force weakens, because rip currents stay close to shore and usually dissipate just beyond the line of breaking waves.
Occasionally, a rip current can push someone hundreds of yards offshore. The most important thing to remember if you are ever caught in a rip current is not to panic. Continue to breathe, try to keep your head above water, and don’t exhaust yourself fighting against the force of the current.