If you’re spending time at the Delaware beaches this summer, be aware of the dangers rip currents cause and learn what to do if caught in one.
Every Fourth of July, an estimated 60,000 people descend on Delaware’s coast for sun, surf and beach barbecues. But before you and your family hit the waves, it’s important to understand the No. 1 danger swimmers and bodyboarders face in the Atlantic Ocean: rip currents.
Rip currents—is a strong, narrow current of water that moves directly away from the shore, cutting through the lines of breaking waves like a river running out to the ocean. They can send swimmers hundreds of yards from shore—regardless of a swimmer’s age, size, strength or swimming ability.
So far this season, Bethany Beach Patrol has already saved 100 people from rip currents, says Capt. Joe Donnelly. “On any given year, we probably average about 450 [saves].”
While Delaware’s lifeguards are trained to be prepared for any situation, swimmers should still take precautions to stay safe. Here, we explain how to identify a rip current and what to do if you find yourself caught in one. Following these tips could save your life.
Know how to identify a rip current. They are often close to shore, where water appears calm. They typically break right before a line of crashing waves and are often darker in color.
Understand your surroundings. When you first arrive at the beach, take note of what flags the lifeguards have put out: A yellow flag indicates that there are slightly hazardous conditions, such as high surf or strong currents, while a red flag warns against extremely hazardous conditions, and it is advised to not swim.
Never swim alone. The chance of getting help faster increases when you have a friend or family member with you.
If You get Caught
Don’t panic! The most important thing is to remain calm and stay afloat. The current will not pull you under; it will just pull you away from shore. People die in rip currents when they try to fight them and tire out. “If you do happen to get caught in a rip current, try to swim parallel to the shoreline,” Donnelly says. This is your best chance to escape the powerful rip on own.
As you float, yell and and wave your hands to get a lifeguard’s attention. One study shows that 80 percent of lifeguard rescues are due to rip currents, meaning they will know what to look for and how to help.