If in Doubt, Don’t Go Out: Rip Currents and Beach Safety

Rip currents are the cause of more than 80 percent of the rescue’s lifeguards perform on beaches each year.

A rip current is a narrow, fast-moving channel of water that starts near the beach and extends offshore through the line of breaking waves.

It’s often difficult to see rip currents. You can identify a rip current by standing back from the water and looking for places with flat spots where waves aren’t breaking, and water is being pushed away from shore.

Before heading to the beach, check your local beach conditions to identify the wave forecast. When waves are two to three feet high or greater, you are likely to have strong rip currents.

Caught in rip current?

If you find yourself caught in a rip current, the best thing you can do is stay calm. Rip currents will pull you away from shore but shouldn’t take you under. You will want to float and not to swim against the rip current. Call and wave for help and swim out of the rip current, by swimming parallel to shore, along the beach and then follow breaking waves back to shore at an angle.

See someone caught in a rip current

If you see someone who is caught in a rip current, get help from the nearest lifeguard. If a lifeguard is not available, have someone call 9-1-1.

Try to remain calm and have someone keep an eye on the person in trouble or keep your eyes on the person.  Give a clear explanation of your location and stay on the phone with the dispatcher until you are told otherwise.

If possible, throw the victim something that floats and yell instructions on how to escape by instructing them to swim in a direction following the shoreline and out of the rip current and then direct them to swim following the breaking waves back to shore at an angle.

Only professionally trained rescuers should attempt in-water rescues.

Ocean safety tips!

  • Never swim alone.
  • Always be cautious, especially when swimming at unguarded beaches.
  • 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.

For more tips on beach safety, visit www.parks.ca.gov