Rip currents, also known as riptides or undertows, are long, narrow bands of water that can pull any objects caught in them away from shore and out to sea. Rip currents are dangerous, and it’s best to learn how to identify and stay out of them. The two local beaches where you’re most likely to encounter rip currents on Aquidneck Island are Easton’s Beach (1st Beach) and Sachuest Beach (2nd Beach).
According to the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA), rip currents are the leading surf hazard for beachgoers. More than 100 people a year die from rip-current related drownings alone – more than from shark attacks, tornadoes and lightning strikes combined. At least 80 percent of lifeguard rescues are due to rip currents.
Rip currents are powerful, fast-moving channels of water (up to 8 feet per second) that typically flow from the shoreline to beyond the area where waves break. They can form on any beach or lake shore where waves are breaking, often near sandbars, jetties and piers.
Rip currents are capable of dragging even the strongest of swimmers far away from the shore, causing distress and panic.
Get to Know the Flow
Would you know a rip current if you saw one? Rip currents are not easily identifiable by most people. Some of the more recognizable characteristics of a rip current include:
A choppy channel of water that has a churning motion
A line of sea foam, seaweed or debris that is moving steadily out to sea.
A disrupted pattern of incoming waves.
Look for rip current educational signs and surf hazard warning flags posted by beach patrols that correspond to specific surf conditions and local rip current activity.
NOAA’s National Weather Service issues regional surf zone forecasts that help local authorities determine an area’s risk for rip currents (low risk, moderate risk and high risk). These risk assessments help lifeguards and law enforcement officials determine whether the water is safe for swimming.
Don’t become a statistic.
Before you step foot in the water this summer, familiarize yourself with the warning flags for your area and swim only on guarded beaches.
If you should get caught in a rip current, don’t panic. Try to remember a few simple rules:
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