Rip Current (9 min. video)


Peter Davis, Galveston, Texas; Galveston Island Beach Patrol Chief: Your grandma called it undertow, your uncle called it a rip tide, itís a rip current. Now weíre on the same page. A rip current is a strong finger like current that runs off shore very powerful, extremely dangerous.


Carol Davis, Galveston, Texas; Beach Patrol Dispatcher: It doesnít pull you under, it pulls you out. Itís a horizontal current.


Peter Davis: Thereís no current that pulls you under in the beach. Rip Currents pull you out. Itíll dig up the sand so itíll cause a trench or a trough to be there. Even after the rip current is gone that drop off can still be pretty pronounced, so people will step off into it, not ready, next you know theyíre getting carried off shore. What happens is people get scared or tired from trying to fight that current and think theyíre not going make it back in. And thatís when they have problems.


Peter Davis: You can recognize a rip current by ití foamy, choppy surface. Itíll have sand mixed up in it and it will be a little different color than the rest of the water.


Spencer Roger, North Carolina Sea Grant

Specialist in Coastal Processes: The key is to look for differences along the shore line. There are differences in the motion of the water, in the color of the water, in the choppiness of the waves as they approach the beach, and the point where they break along the surf zone. Now in some cases you may have one of these indicators, in some cases there may be all of them, and in some cases none.


Dr. Jamie MacMahan, Center for Applied Coastal Research

Newark, DE: You see a rip current, you see sort of no waves really breaking in this area as you walk along, and next thing you know it youíre being pulled off shore.


Peter Davis: Rip currents are most dangers when thereís high surf or a lot of current running parallel to shore.


Dr. Jamie MacMahan: Waves in general come in groups, so when the largest wave sort of occurs it comes a stronger flow off shore and this gives a false sense of security because you stand in the rip channel, itís not pulling and the next thing you know youíre being whisked off shore.


Peter Davis: Many times rips occur near structures like piers or jetties, other times at beaches with a lot of slope theyíll pop up out of now where.


Jim Eberwine, Marine & Hurricane Program Leader

National Weather Service, Mount Holly, NJ: Now you ask any lifeguard heíll tell you that on any particular day, there are rip currents. So youíll have rip currents present, itís those people, the lifeguards, who know where they are. And then theyíll adjust, in fact they told us that one day you may be on 55th street but then the next you may have to move down a little bit, because the rip current is moving along with that. So, theyíre the experts and they give us the information that we need.


Peter Davis: The combination of wind, waves, and long shore current together can form rip currents. Rip current in a nut shell is a narrow river that runs directly off shore, perpendicular to shore, out to sea.


Joe Snelgrove, Lifeguard: Rip down there when the waves come in, all the water that comes in from the waves has to go out somewhere.


Peter Davis: Each year many people lose their lives at sea, they think they are a match for the ocean. They think theyíre stronger, they think theyíre tougher; make no mistake about it no one is.


Sarah Love, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

Lifeguard: Rip currents is when it forms kinda like a mushroom cloud, white water goes out, and if youíre stuck in it, youíll go out with the rip current.


Carol Davis: Rip currents are dangerous; they are the leading surf hazard for all beach goers.


Peter Davis: They are particularly dangerous for non-swimmers. They can go faster than an Olympic swimmer can sprint.


Bill Boyle, Miami Beach Florida

Ocean Rescue: You see all these people going in where we kept them out all day. And about 18-20 people, bam, gone all of them.


Sandee LaMotte, Widow: I was at the sink washing some stuff for dinner, the kids came bursting in the door and they said mom, mom, daddy went in after ryan, ryan was stuck and now nobody can find daddy.I just couldnít believe it, so I rushed out the door, as soon as I got I outside I heard the helicopters and I saw the crowd of people, because we werenít that far from the beach and I knew, so I started running as fast I can, by the time I got out there some rescue people were out in the water and I could see two people floating out there. I could tell one of them was Larry because of his blue trunks and stuff. They got the other man out and they were able to revive him, but it took at least 15 minutes to try toget Larry out and he was gone.


General D.L. Johnson, Director

National Weather Service: NOAAs national weather service is charged with protecting lives, and we lose over 100 people to rip currents each year at the beach. They are hard to detect you ought to use all the information available to make sure you protect your family.


Peter Davis: Rip currents are responsible for 80% of all rescues in the surf environment.


Peter Davis: When ever possible swim in a lifeguard protected beach.



Mike Barrows, Monmouth County, NJ

Lifeguard: Itís not bad to go up to the lifeguard before you go in the water and ask them where they are, where you should swim and where you shouldnít swim.


Kevin Sweat, Daytona Beach, Florida

Lifeguard: We have a lot of rip currents some days and we have to explain where theyíre at, what itís gonna feel like if you get caught in a rip current for example cause they donít know.


Dr. Jamie MacMahan: And this is counter intuitive, a lot of people want to swim back to shore, and thatís your first instinct, but you really need to swim parallel and then youíll come back on shore.


Chris Brewster, United States Lifesaving Association: If youíre caught in a rip current the first thing you want to try to do is remain calm, stay floating. You want to try to swim along the shore line and then at an angle back to shore, if you can do so. But if you are unable to do that, just stay floating in the rip current eventually itís pull will dissipate.But if you are a non-swimmer and if youíre really unable to even stay afloat, turn around face shore, wave your arms, yell for help, anything along those lines. If you see someone in trouble, get help from a lifeguard, if there is no lifeguard available possibly throw them something that floats and give them advice on how to get back to shore. Donít try to go in and affect a rescue, every year people drown trying to rescue others, donít become a victim trying to rescue someone else.


Carol Davis: If caught in a rip current at an unguarded beach, how you respond will make the difference between life and death


General D.L. Johnson: Use all the information available to make sure you protect your family.


Carol Davis: The United States Lifesaving Association in partnership with NOAAs National Weather service and national sea grant program is working together to raise awareness about the dangers of rip currents. The goal of the awareness campaign and research is to reduce the number of rip current related fatalities.


General D.L. Johnson: Over 153 million people in this country now live within 20 miles of the shore or in coastal counties, so the number has increased over 50 percent of our population.


Carol Davis: Increasing coastal populations rip currents will continue to be a serious hazard at surf beaches.


Carol Davis: Follow these safety tips. Learn how to swim in the surf, itís not the same as swimming in a pool or lake.


Peter Davis: Be cautious at all times, especially, when swimming in unguarded beaches.


Sarah Love: Definitely look for rip currents, I mean theyíre out there.


Carol Davis: Watch children and the elderly when at the beach. Even in shallow water wave action can cause lose of footing.


Chris Brewster: The best ways to avoid rip current problems know how to swim, never swim alone, always swim in an area protected by lifeguards; in fact, United States Lifesaving Association statistics indicate that the chance of drowning in lifeguard protected area is 1 in 18 million. Follow the recommendations of lifeguards at the beaches you go to, be cautious and by all means if in doubt donít go out.


Jim Eberwine, Marine & Hurricane Program Leader

National Weather Service, Mount Holly, NJ: Our hope one day is that the people when they see these ripe current indexes, they are going to look at it like the UV index. Oh

today is a 10, so Iím gonna have to protect myself. Rip Current index today is high so Iím gonna have to be extremely careful with my kids.


General D.L. Johnson: Your first step in preparing to go to the beach ought to be to go to and check the surf zone forecast, and then get your towels and lotions ready to go.


Peter Davis: When you go to the beach, just remember this is not a pool and itís not a pond, if youíre a non-swimmer you have no business going out in the surf environment.


Narrator: Above all keep your eyes on the water.