Provided by NOAA’s
National Weather Service
- Rip currents are channelized currents of water flowing away from shore at surf beaches.
- Rip currents typically form at breaks in sandbars, and also near structures such as jetties and piers.
- Rip currents are quite common and can be found on many surf beaches every day, including Great Lakes beaches.
- Rip current speeds vary. Average speeds are 1-2 feet per second, but they have been measured as fast as 8 feet per second faster than an Olympic swimmer!
- Rip currents can be very narrow or more than 50 yards wide.
- Sometimes rip currents end just beyond the line of breaking waves; however, they may continue to pull hundreds of yards offshore.
- Rip currents do not pull people under the water – they pull people away from shore.
Learn to swim! 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. Lifeguards are trained to identify potential hazards. Ask a lifeguard about the conditions before entering the water. This is part of their job.
- Stay at least 100 feet away from piers and jetties. Permanent rip currents often exist along the sides of these structures.
- Consider using polarized sunglasses when at the beach. They will help you to spot signatures of rip currents by cutting down glare and reflected sunlight off the ocean’s surface.
- 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 following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim at an angle-away from the current-towards shore.
- If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water.