Rip Current Safety for Spring Breakers

rip_currentSpring Break for Tuscaloosa City and County schools is this week, March 12-16, 2018, and many Tuscaloosa families may be traveling to the Gulf Coast. Strong rip currents are expected along the Gulf Coast through this weekend and into next week. Surf advisories may also be issued for these areas. If your family or students in your family are planning on traveling to the Gulf Coast this weekend or next week, please take some time to learn what rip currents are and how to stay safe when you encounter them in the ocean.

Rip currents are channeled currents of water flowing away from the shore along the beach. They form when waves break near the shore. Rip currents can be stronger or occur more frequently near structures, like piers and jetties, in the water. They can be anywhere from 10 feet to 200 feet in width, and extend out past the breaking waves. Rip currents can pull people offshore quickly, no matter how good a swimmer.

To stay safe at the beach, remember these safety tips: always check the water conditions before going to the beach. Don't assume that the water is calm because it is a clear, sunny day - rip currents often form during these conditions. Learn to swim and never swim alone. Try to swim near a lifeguard or have someone on the beach that knows where you are and can watch for signs of trouble. If you get caught in a rip current, don't fight the current. Instead, swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current, then swim back to shore. If you can't escape the current or get tired, float or tread water while calling and waving for help. Don't panic! Panicking uses energy and causes you to tire faster.

Obey beach flags. There are five colored flag categories on Gulf Coast beaches. If flags are yellow, rip current activity is expected. Be cautious when entering the water, don't swim alone, and know what to do if you are caught in a rip current. Red flags mean dangerous conditions are expected. Rip currents are likely to be stronger and occur more frequently. It is recommended to stay out of the water on red flag days. Double red flags mean that the water is closed to the public.

If you aren't sure about the water conditions for the day, it is best to stay out of the water. If in doubt, stay out!