BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – Spring break is here! Many people will be traveling to enjoy some time at the beach. When planning a beach trip, it is important to understand beach safety to have a good time. Rip currents are one of the biggest threats at the beach.

On average, there are 100 fatalities per year due to rip currents, according to the U.S. Lifesaving Association. Most fatalities happen to people who visit beaches from inland areas. Rip currents make up 80% of ocean rescues.

What are rip currents?

Rip currents are channels of water moving away from the shoreline. They are often found where waves are not breaking. They can form around breaks in sandbars and structures such as piers. The weather does not have to be bad for rip currents to form. They can exist on clear, calm and sunny days on any beach that has breaking waves.

On average, rip currents can travel around 1 to 2 feet per second. Sometimes, they can also be as fast as 8 feet per second (around 5 miles per hour), which is faster than an Olympic swimmer. They can roughly be 50-100 feet wide and stretch 300 feet away from the shore.

To spot a rip current, look for seaweed, foam or other debris moving away from shore. The current might look darker or murkier than the surrounding water. These currents can are found where waves are not breaking or crashing.

Rip currents can form where waves are not breaking. Courtesy: NWS

Rip current safety

If you find yourself caught in a rip current, do not attempt to swim against the current toward the beach. If you have good swimming skills, swim parallel to the shoreline until you have escaped the current. Once you have escaped the pull of the current, swim toward the shore at an angle away from the current.

If you cannot escape the current, remain calm and float while waving your hands and yelling to grab the attention of a lifeguard. Rip currents will not pull you underwater, but they will pull you away from shore. Drowning can occur from the struggle against the current. Do not underestimate the power of water – even the strongest swimmers can drown due to rip currents.

If you see someone caught in a rip current, the best thing to do is to get help by notifying a lifeguard or calling 911 if no lifeguard is present. You can yell instructions to the person caught in the current on how to escape. It is not recommended for you to enter the water as many have died in an attempt to rescue someone else.

It is best to check out the beach forecast before planning a getaway to one of the Gulf’s beaches. Many National Weather Service offices issue a Surf Zone Forecast for their respective beaches. You can find the correct local weather office and Surf Zone Forecasts here.

At the beach, make sure there is a lifeguard on duty before entering the water. It is always best to have someone with you. If you have doubts about rip currents in the surf, do not go out.

Beach flag system

When you are at the beach, look out for beach flags that show current water conditions. It is important to know what each color means:

  • Green: Low hazard with calm conditions. Caution should still be exercised in the water.
  • Yellow: Medium hazard with moderate surf. Some rip currents can be expected and caution should be used in the water.
  • Red: High hazard with high surf. Strong and dangerous rip currents can be expected. Rip currents are likely to be frequent so it is recommended to stay out of the water.
  • Double Red: Water conditions are too dangerous; so, the water is closed. Entering the water becomes illegal and you could be arrested or given a fine.
  • Purple: Dangerous marine life has been spotted such as jellyfish or stingrays.

Other beach hazards

When you plan a beach trip, make sure to watch out for other hazards. Always stay hydrated and apply sunscreen. Watch out for dangerous marine life. Keep an eye on the sky, thunderstorms occur during the summer months over the Gulf Coast and pose a threat to beachgoers. Lightning is a hazard that should be taken seriously. When you hear thunder, it is best to get off the beach and into a closed structure.

Any tropical cyclone that nears a coastline or moves towards land can cause high surf and increased winds. This creates very unsafe conditions where no one should be in the water.

For more information on beach forecasts and safety visit here.