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Rip currents in Florida: What to keep in mind

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Posted at 6:13 AM, May 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-26 07:24:25-04

TAMPA, Fla. — They can be found on many beaches every day and they can be deadly.

What are rip currents and how do you get out of one if caught?

RELATED: 10-year-old girl drowns after struggling in the current near Siesta Key Beach

Rip currents are narrow, channeled water currents that flow horizontally away from the shore, according to Visit Florida. They typically form at breaks in sandbars or near structures, like piers and jetties, according to the National Weather Service.

If you're caught in a rip current, NWS says to do the following:

  • Relax — Rip currents don't pull you under.
  • A rip current is a natural treadmill that travels an average speed of 1-2 feet per second, but has been measured as fast as 8 feet per second, that's faster than an Olympic swimmer! Do not attempt to swim against the rip, it will only use up the energy you need to survive and escape.
  • Do NOT try to swim directly into to shore. Swim parallel, along the shoreline until you escape the current's pull. When free from the pull of the current, swim at an angle away from the current toward shore.
  • If you feel you can't reach shore, relax, face the shore, and call or wave for help. Remember: If in doubt, don't go out!
  • If at all possible, only swim at beaches with lifeguards.
  • If you choose to swim on beaches without a lifeguard, never swim alone. Take a friend and have that person take a cell phone so he or she can call 911 for help.

Rip currents can be hard to spot, but look for the following clues:

  • A channel of churning, choppy water
  • A color change in a particular area
  • A line of seaweed, foam or debris moving gradually towards the sea
  • A break in the incoming wave pattern

Remember to always check beach conditions before you go. Mote Marine Lab & Aquarium has this beach condition reporting system you can use.