OCEAN COUNTY – As the saying goes: it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.
According to the National Weather Service, 30,000 people are rescued from rip currents and high surf zones in the US each year. According to the US Lifesaving Association (USLA), more than 100 bathers will lose their lives this year due to rip current drowning.
While the beach is a great place to relax and enjoy the waves, the Ocean County Health Department is reminding residents to practice caution when in the ocean.
“With the water getting warmer as the dog days of summer approach, more and more people will flock to the ocean to swim and recreate. That is why it’s extremely important to be aware of any known rip currents where you’re swimming and to only swim when a lifeguard is on duty,” advises Ocean County Freeholder Gerry P. Little, liaison to the Ocean County Board of Health.
It is always a good idea to swim only when a lifeguard is on duty. The USLA calculates that a person’s chance of drowning is 1 in a million while swimming at a protected beach.
While lifeguards do a great job of keeping watch to ensure safety, it is important for everyone to know how to avoid a rip current in the first place, or what to do if pulled into one.
“If you ever find yourself caught in a rip current, do not fight it,” said Daniel E. Regenye, Ocean County Health Department Public Health Coordinator. “The best thing to do is to swim parallel to the shore and swim back to the beach at an angle. Try to stay calm – rip currents only pull you out, not under.”
Some may refer to them as “undertow” or “rip tides,” but these silent dangers are actually rip currents. Rip currents are powerful, narrow channels of fast moving water moving at speeds of 8 feet per second.
“Drowning deaths occur when people pulled offshore are unable to keep themselves afloat and swim back to shore. This is due to any combination of exhaustion, fear, panic or lack of swimming skills, “Regenye added.
The OCHD provides some tips to remember in the event you get pulled into a rip current:
- Don’t swim against the current.
- Swim out of the current, then to shore.
- Try to escape by floating or treading water if the current circulates back toward the beach.
- If you feel you will be unable to reach the shore, draw attention to yourself by yelling or waving for assistance.
How can we identify if a rip current is present? The OCHD noted that they can present as a narrow gap of darker, seemingly calmer water between areas of breaking waves and whitewater, or a channel of churning, choppy water. There is also a difference in water color or perhaps a line of foam, seaweed or debris moving seaward.
If you see someone struggling in a rip current, get help from a lifeguard. If you attempt to rescue the person, you may end up in the same situation. If possible, throw the struggling swimmer something that floats. If a lifeguard isn’t available call 9-1-1.
For more information on rip currents and a complete list of “rip tips,” visit the Health Department website at ochd.org.