Surviving Rip Currents

A rip current is a powerful channel of water that flows away from the shore. Rip currents often form at breaks in sandbars and near jetties and piers. They can be narrow or more than 50 yards wide. Rip currents are common and can be found on any beach with breaking waves, including large lakes. The United States Lifesaving Association estimates that rip currents account for over eighty percent of all beach rescues and over 100 deaths annually at our nation's beaches.


When you arrive at the beach, ask the lifeguard about water conditions and any rip currents that may be present. Rip currents contain choppy water that creates clouds of sediment or sand, which change the color of the water. Look for a channel of brown foamy water, possibly containing seaweed or debris that is moving out to sea.

If caught in a rip current, stay calm and don’t fight the current. A rip current will pull you away from the shore, but it will not pull you under water. To escape, swim parallel to the shore, until you are out of the current. Then swim at an angle away from the current toward the shore.

If you are unable to escape, face the shore, float or tread water and call or wave for help. If the current weakens, swim at an angle away from the current toward the shore. If you see someone caught in a rip current, get help from a lifeguard. If a lifeguard isn’t present, yell instructions on how to escape. ​If possible, throw the victim something that floats and call 911 for help. DO NOT try to rescue the victim yourself. Many people have died trying to rescue others from rip currents.