MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- When people go to the beach they often take a lot of precautionary measures to ensure they will have a good time. Most apply sun block to prevent burning, bring cool beverages to combat thirst, and wear clothing that is suited for the elements of a beach environment.
One thing that many beach goers overlook is the eminent risk of drowning, which is the third leading cause of unintentional deaths, presented by the mighty ocean. Especially dangerous are rip currents, which claim over 100 lives a year and are responsible for more than 80 percent of rescues by U.S. Lifesaving Association affiliated lifeguards at ocean beaches, according to USLA’s Web site www.usla.org.
“The threat of riptides is enormously overlooked,” said Joe Jacobs, environmental officer and safety officer for the School of Infantry [East]. “People don’t take it seriously, or just don’t understand the power a riptide can have.”
Rip currents are strong, swift- moving channels of water rushing from the shore out to sea. They are most typically formed at low spots or breaks in sandbars, and also near structures such as jetties and piers, according to the National Weather Service’s website, www.nws.noaa.org.
Rip currents can be found on many surf beaches every day and can vary in widths from a few feet, to hundreds of yards, according to Jacobs.
“They usually occur in a break in sandbars about 25-50 ft. off shore,” said Jacobs.
The seaward pull of rip currents also varies. In some instances the rip current ends just beyond the line of breaking waves, but in other situations rip currents continue to push hundreds of yards offshore, according to www.nws.noaa.org
Although the speeds of most rip currents are relatively slow, under certain wave, tide, and beach profile conditions the speeds can quickly increase to become dangerous to anyone entering the surf.
If you are caught in a rip current, it is recommended that you remain calm and attempt to conserve energy and think clearly. You should never attempt to fight against the current, instead swim parallel to the beach to exit the flow and then continue in towards the shore at an angle away from the current.
“The most important thing to do if caught in a riptide is to stay calm, and don’t swim against the current,” said Jacobs.
Should a person find themselves unable to swim out of a rip current, they should float or tread water until free or draw attention to themselves by waving and yelling for help, according to Jacobs.
The best way to avoid becoming the next victim of a rip current is to not go swimming, surfing, or participate in any water activity when winds are strong or when a storm is approaching, according to Jacobs.
Other important things to think about before, during and after swimming include water depth, personal hydration, sun safety, personal physical limitations, surroundings and lifeguard warnings.
By maintaining a high level of personal awareness and safety, ocean lovers can enjoy a long summer of fun at the beach.