Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

Traveling Mom: Beach safety - beware of rip currents

Posted July 8, 2012

Headed to the beach this summer? Do you know the greatest danger at the beach? Or how to survive it?

Well, it’s not sharks. Believe it or not, fatal shark attacks occur less than once a year in the United States.

The greatest danger at the beach is is rip currents. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, approximately 50,000 people are rescued from rip currents by lifeguards in the United States each year. About 100 people die each year from getting caught in rip currents. These deaths are easily avoided.

Rip currents are a natural ocean phenomenon. When waves break, most of the water rushes in toward the beach. Rip currents pull against the beach, back toward the ocean. Moving at speeds of up to eight feet per second, they are faster than anyone can swim. The higher the waves, the faster the currents tend to be. Thus, the more dangerous they are.

Caught in a rip current and pulled away from shore, people panic. They frantically swim to get back to shore, but the rip current pulls them away faster than they can swim. That feeling of being swept out to sea increases the panic. Drowning results when the fatigue of fighting the rip current is too much and the swimmer is engulfed by waves.

Protect your family from rip currents at the beach with these simple tips:

  • Swim at beaches with lifeguards AND stay out of the water in red flag conditions. Almost all rip current deaths occur at beaches without lifeguards.
  • Make sure every member in your group understands that a rip current is simply a current pulling away from the beach for a few minutes.
  • Teach them how to respond if caught in a rip current. You can't swim toward shore against the current! Instead, swim parallel to shore to break free of it.
  • In a particularly strong current or if you can't break free for another reason, stay calm and ride it out. Once you get beyond the outward push of the current you can swim out and around the current back to shore.

Other helpful tips:

  • Never swim alone.
  • Do not swim while consuming alcohol. Intoxication decreases awareness and leads to many ocean related deaths each year.
  • Obey life guard instructions. If they say it's too dangerous to swim, stay out of the water. They know what they're talking about!
  • Review ocean safety rules every time you go to the beach.
  • Rest, rehydrate and refuel often. You use more energy playing in the ocean than you might realize.
  • If you can't swim out of the rip current, tread water, wave your arms and yell for help -- without panicking!

Jaws probably won't get you, but that rip current might. Take these simple steps and be safe this summer.

Read all about Karen Dawkins, a Clayton mom of three, on her blog Family Travels on a Budget, where she provides vacation ideas, travel tips and planning strategies for stress free family travel. Check the box above for more Go Ask Mom posts from Karen.


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