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Rip Currents: Stay Alert & Safe When Enjoying The Ocean This Summer

Contributing Writer

CAROLINA BEACH - As the school year draws to an end and the blazing summer months approach, people will naturally head to the beach and jump in the waves to cool off.
As fun and refreshing as this may sound, the ocean presents many threats to beach patrons and surfers alike. According to the United States Life Saving Association, eighty percent of all beach rescues are due to rip currents, and they result in almost one hundred deaths per year.
Rip currents flow perpendicular to shore and loop around, similar to a mushroom cloud. “These currents are recognizable by their sandy discolored water. There may be foam buildup, but most rip currents do not have waves. This is deceiving to swimmers because the water looks calmer, more shallow, and easier to swim in, when in fact the water is much deeper and extremely dangerous.
Rip currents can move as fast as five miles per hour, and the conditions are strongest a couple hours before and after low tide,” said Simon Sanders, President of the Pleasure Island Lifeguard Association.
Sanders also said, “Being caught in a rip current is like running on a treadmill. So go with the current and stick your arm straight in the air to signal for help.” To make sure that beachgoers remain safe this season, Sanders recommends talking to the lifeguards who are trained to recognize rip currents and know how to escape them. The Carolina and Kure Beach lifeguards are willing to jump down and give what he calls a “sand seminar” where they will tell you everything you need to know about the ocean’s natural processes and how to stay safe in the water. Sanders says this is the best way to stay educated and informed while frolicking in the sea this season.
How to Identify Rip Currents
Look for any of these clues:
• A channel of churning, choppy water
•  An area having a notable difference in water color
• A line of foam, seaweed, or debris moving steadily seaward
•  A break in the incoming wave pattern
None, one, or more of the above clues may indicate the presence of rip currents. Rip currents are often not readily or easily identifiable to the average beachgoer. For your safety, be aware of this major surf zone hazard. Polarized sunglasses make it easier to see the rip current clues provided above.
How to Avoid and Survive Rip Currents  
• Never swim alone.
• Be cautious at all times, especially when swimming at unguarded beaches. If in doubt, don’t go out!
• Whenever possible, swim at a lifeguard protected beach.
• Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards.
• If caught in a rip current, remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
• Don’t fight the current. Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim towards shore.
• If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water. When out of the current, swim towards shore.
• If you are still unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself:  face the shore, wave your arms, and yell for help.
• If you see someone in trouble, get help from a lifeguard. If a lifeguard is not available, have someone call 9-1-1 .
Throw the rip current victim something that floats and yell instructions on how to escape. Remember, many people drown while trying to save someone else from a rip current.