What is a Rip Current?

What is a rip current?

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conversation Commission, a rip current is a large amount of water at the shoreline that rushes in a narrow path back to the ocean. They do not pull swimmers underwater, but can pull them away from the shore, which increases the risk of drowning. They occur when:

  • there is a break in an offshore sandbar
  • the longshore current is diverted by a pier or jetty
  • longshore currents moving in opposite directions meet

Of the 54 surf zone deaths so far in 2016, 39 have been the result of rip currents. You might think Florida would have the most rip current deaths, but in actuality, they have occurred across the United States, even in unexpected places like Indiana and Wisconsin.

What are the signs of a rip current?

  • A gap in advancing breakers where the rip current is pushing its way seaward.
  • A line of foam extending offshore.
  • A dark or murky streak of water
  • An offshore plume of turbid water past the sandbar. 

What do you do if you are stuck in a rip current?

First of all, stay calm. You need to conserve energy and think clearly, just like in any dangerous situation. Do not try to swim against the rip current.  If you can, swim diagonally to shore.

In the event that you can’t escape the rip current, tread water until someone is able to help you. Yell for help or wave your arms to get the attention of a lifeguard or someone else who can help you.

If you are not a strong swimmer, or don’t know how to swim, avoid swimming at all, or stay in shallow wading areas. Even if you are a strong swimmer, it is still important to be cautious. Make sure the beach has a lifeguard, and always stay within sight.

If you see someone caught in a rip current, get help from a lifeguard, or call 911. If you can, throw someone that will help the victim stay afloat, like a lifejacket or even a cooler or inflatable ball, or yell instructions to them. To prevent rip current incidents, keep an eye on children, the elderly, or anyone who isn’t a strong swimmer, and make sure no one swims alone.


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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