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Date of Issue: July 21, 2010

Rip currents cause concern

The warning flags found at public beaches in Florida.

        State officials and lifeguards are reminding swimmers about the potential for moderate- to high-risk rip currents, which can be dangerous for even experienced swimmers.

        A rip current is a narrow, powerful current of water running perpendicular to the beach, out into the ocean. The currents may extend 200 to 2,500 feet lengthwise, but they are typically less than 30 feet wide.

        Rip currents can often move at more than 5 mph or faster.

        In Florida, rip currents kill more people annually than thunderstorms, hurricanes and tornadoes combined. They are the No. 1 concern for beach lifeguards. According to the U.S. Lifesaving Association, 80 percent of surf beach rescues are attributed to rip currents.

        So, when at the beach:

        • Whenever possible, swim at a lifeguard-protected beach.

        • Never swim alone.

        • Learn how to swim in the surf. It’s not the same as swimming in a pool or lake.

        • Be cautious at all times, especially when swimming at unguarded beaches. If in doubt, don’t go out.

        • Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards. Lifeguards are trained to identify potential hazards.

        • Stay at least 100 feet away from piers and jetties. Permanent rip currents often exist alongside these structures.

        • Consider using polarized sunglasses when at the beach. They will help you to spot signatures of rip currents by cutting down glare and reflected sunlight off the ocean’s surface.

        • Pay especially close attention to children and elderly when at the beach. Even in shallow water, wave action can cause loss of footing.

        • If caught in a rip current remain calm to conserve energy, think clearly and do not fight against the current.

        Beachgoers at Coquina and Manatee Public beaches on Anna Maria Island will find flags at lifeguard stations notifying swimmers of current water conditions.

        When rip currents and heavy waves pose a problem, lifeguards with the Manatee County Marine Rescue Division “fly the ‘No Swimming’ flags on the areas that pose a potential threat and advise people to move down to the areas that are open for swimming, body surfing etc,” said division chief Jay Moyles.

        For more information about rip currents, go to www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov.