Beach Safety Navigation
The ocean is a very safe place IF you take time to understand beach safety and water safety. Many misconceptions about the ocean exist and contribute to one of the biggest factors behind people getting into trouble. That factor is fear. If you understand the ocean, how the currents work you have nothing to fear, and how to use caution, as it’s extremely easy to safely enjoy the ocean. When you don’t have a proper understanding of beach safety and water safety, fear and panic can take over, jeopardizing your safety.
Many people have an incredible fear of rip and longshore currents (both illustrated and detailed below), which doesn’t help them practice effective water safety, should they accidentally find themselves caught in one. One of the biggest misconceptions with these currents is that they pull you underwater. This is not true. More times than not, fear, panic, and unpreparedness are responsible for swimmers being pulled under by strong currents. In an emergency situation, understanding the currents and knowing how to swim out of them is your best bet for staying safe.
Tasked with keeping our beaches and ocean safe, the Ocean City Beach Patrol is one of the most integral entities in Ocean City, MD. The Beach Patrol is comprised of young men and women who vigorously train under the tutelage of veteran leaders to ensure swimmers and beach goers stay safe at all times. The OCBP is broken up into 17 individual crews, each of which operates as a team to man the 5 or 6 lifeguard stands on its assigned beach, with the crew chief stand located in the center. Read more…
What are Rip Currents
Rip currents are powerful, channeled currents of water flowing away from shore. They typically extend from the shoreline, through the surf zone, and past the line of breaking waves. Rip currents can occur at any beach with breaking waves, including the Great Lakes.
Why Rip Currents Form
As waves travel from deep to shallow water, they will break near the shoreline. When waves break strongly in some locations and weakly in others, this can cause circulation cells which are seen as rip currents: narrow, fast-moving belts of water traveling offshore.
Why Rip Currents are Dangerous
Rip currents are the leading surf hazard for all beachgoers. They are particularly dangerous for weak or non-swimmers. Rip current speeds are typically 1-2 feet per second. However, speeds as high as 8 feet per second have been measured–this is faster than an Olympic swimmer can sprint! Thus, rip currents can sweep even the strongest swimmer out to sea.
When Rip Currents Form
Rip currents can be found on many surf beaches every day. Under most tide and sea conditions the speeds are relatively slow. However, under certain wave, tide, and beach profile conditions the speeds can quickly increase to become dangerous to anyone entering the surf. The strength and speed of a rip current will likely increase as wave height and wave period increase. They are most likely to be dangerous during high surf conditions as the wave height and wave period increase.
Where Rip Currents Form
Rip currents most typically form at low spots or breaks in sandbars, and also near structures such as groins, jetties and piers. Rip currents can be very narrow or extend in widths to hundreds of yards. The seaward pull of rip currents varies: sometimes the rip current ends just beyond the line of breaking waves, but sometimes rip currents continue to push hundreds of yards offshore.
How to Identify Rip Currents
Look for any of these clues:
- a channel of churning, choppy water
- an area having a notable difference in water color
- a line of foam, seaweed, or debris moving steadily seaward
- a break in the incoming wave pattern
How to Avoid and Survive Rip Currents
- Never swim alone.
- Be cautious at all times, especially when swimming at unguarded beaches. If in doubt, don’t go out!
- Whenever possible, swim at a lifeguard protected beach.
- Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards.
- If caught in a rip current, remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
- Don’t fight the current. Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim towards shore.
- If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water. When out of the current, swim towards shore.
- If you are still unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself: face the shore, wave your arms, and yell for help.
- If you see someone in trouble, get help from a lifeguard. If a lifeguard is not available, have someone call 9-1-1. Throw the rip current victim something that floats and yell instructions on how to escape. Remember, many people drown while trying to save someone else from a rip current.
Rip current Myth – A rip current is a horizontal current. Rip currents do not pull people under the water–-they pull people away from shore. Drowning deaths occur when people pulled offshore are unable to keep themselves afloat and swim to shore. This may be due to any combination of fear, panic, exhaustion, or lack of swimming skills.
Longshore current – A current located in the surf zone, moving generally parallel to the shoreline, generated by waves breaking at an angle with the shoreline, also called the alongshore current. Water will drift with the direction of the wind. The best thing to understand with this current is that you will drift up or down the beach with the current and you want to be aware of that fact. As you drift to a certain point, exit the water and walk back up the beach to your entry point. You always want to turn around once and a while and pay attention to your location in reference to where you entered the water. Strong winds can make the longshore current very strong and fast. Pick out a street number or landmark. Tip: Do not pick out the lifeguard chairs or umbrellas as there are hundreds up and down the beach.
Another thing you should always be aware of is water depth. Many people are under the impression that there is deep water underneath waves breaking along the beach, but, in reality, waves break as they travel into shallow(er) water. This means that when you’re playing in the ocean, there is not a lot of water under you. Why is this important? Just like we don’t want to dive into a shallow swimming pool, we don’t want to go head first into the sand. Simply understanding this before stepping into the water is a huge preventative measure.
Most of these may sound like common sense, but understanding and reinforcing them ensures safety in the ocean. Don’t be scared of the ocean, but instead understand it and know your limits, so you can enjoy it.