Rip Current Safety

Rip Current Safety
Posted on 01/18/2017

Although tropical cyclones, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes are often the first that come to mind when thinking of “most dangerous weather phenomenon in Florida”, there is another weather-related hazard that ranks as the deadliest. Florida’s beaches attract millions of residents and tourists each year. However, while there may be beautiful weather in the sky, there are unseen dangers in the waters.

Rip currents, sometimes erroneously referred to as rip tides or undertows, occur naturally and affect many Florida beaches year-round. Since 1995, rip currents have accounted for more than 300 drownings along Florida’s Gulf and Atlantic beaches. In fact, rip currents kill more people in Florida in an average year than hurricanes, tornadoes and lightning combined. In 2014, 16 people lost their lives due to rip currents: 2 along the Florida Panhandle coast, 8 deaths occurring along the Florida East Coast and 6 deaths along the Florida West Coast. Although this number is below what occurred in 2013 (27 fatalities), it still leads the nation in reported rip current drownings

Many of these drowning incidents occur on days when the weather is quite pleasant, with a nice breeze blowing onshore. This catches beachgoers by surprise since fair weather is usually associated with pleasant ocean conditions.

DID YOU KNOW??? Rip currents can occur at the beach with breaking waves, including the Great Lakes.

A rip current is a strong channel of water moving away from the shore at beaches. Rip currents are part of the natural near-shore ocean circulation and are quite common, occurring at many beaches every day on both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida. Rip currents typically form along the beach at breaks in the near shore underwater sandbar, but they also form near structures such as jetties and piers. Rip currents form when water, piled against the shore, begins to return to deeper water. Typically, onshore winds and waves push water over the sandbar, allowing excess water to collect between the bar and the beach. Eventually, this excess water starts to return seaward through low spots in the sandbar, “ripping” an opening. While rip currents can happen any day of the year, weather or ocean conditions can cause rip currents to be stronger and more frequent on some days more than on others.

DID YOU KNOW??? You can sometimes see the signs that show a rip current is present. A visible channel of churning, choppy water; a narrow channel where there is a difference in water color; a line of seaward moving foam; an offshore area of murky water are all indicators of possible rip currents.

Rip currents are dangerous because they can pull unprepared swimmers away from shore and into deeper offshore waters. They become especially dangerous when swimmers panic and struggle against the current while being pulled farther and farther away from the beach. Contrary to popular belief, rip currents do not pull a swimmer under the water. The force of a rip current is too strong for even the strongest of swimmers, and attempts to swim directly back toward shore, especially for the panicked and tired swimmer, can be fatal.

DID YOU KNOW??? Rip currents can travel as fast as five mph, or about eight feet per second, which is faster than an Olympic swimmer can swim!

More information on rip currents and what you can do to protect yourself and others can be found at and