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Your Healthy Family: Escaping a rip current

Posted at 7:47 AM, Jul 05, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-05 07:47:41-04

Rip currents have killed nearly a dozen people on the Gulf Coast in the last few weeks. Experts say there are things you need to know in case you're caught up in a rip current.

The waves don't have to be big and weather doesn't need to be bad for a dangerous rip current to form.

"They can reach speeds of about an Olympic swimmer so even if you are a very good swimmer, they could still cause you potential problems," Gregory Dusek, a Senior Scientist with NOAA's National Ocean Service, said.

He said from 2013-2023, rip currents were the third-leading cause of weather-related deaths in our country; they kill 71 people every year on average. Dusek said that's more deadly than lightning, tornadoes or hurricanes.

"They don't pull you under the water. That's kind of a common misconception. People think they suck you under the water but they don't. They just kind of pull you away from shore," he said.

If you're in the water and feel like you're getting farther away from the beach, the first thing to do is not panic.

"I know that sounds counter-intuitive. People want to try to get back to shore. But you want to relax and float," he said.

He said don't try to swim against the current; that will only make you more tired. Instead, Dusek said to swim parallel to the beach until it stops feeling like the water has a pull on you. Then swim back to the shore at an angle, letting the waves help push you back in.

"Some people might not be strong swimmers, or you might be tired and feel like you can't keep swimming. And so if you can just float, stay on the surface of the water, and look back to shore and call and wave for help, that will give a chance to for public safety personnel to come and rescue you," he said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the number one thing you can do to stay safe at the beach is swim near a lifeguard. If that's not possible, look up rip current forecasts to see if there's the potential for rip currents at the beach you're planning to go to.