Rip currents pose beach hazard, need for awareness

Jul 12, 2017 | By: Kristin Wolfrum

Last weekend, a day at Panama City Beach nearly turned deadly for several people that were caught in a rip current. The victims of the strong current were saved when bystanders formed a human chain to reach them and bring them back to land.

The dramatic events started when two young boys playing in the waves with their boogie boards got stuck in the current. Eight others, including several of their family members, were unsuccessful in rescuing them and also became victims of the rip current. The human chain quickly became a popular human interest story but serves as an important reminder of a coastal danger that is in our backyard.

Living in Florida comes with some beautiful luxuries (gorgeous beaches, lack of snow, no state income tax, etc.) as well as some horrifying realities (from the much-worried-about diverging diamond to unpredictable hurricanes and rip currents, to name a few). While the group in Panama City Beach was fortunate enough to survive their encounter with a rip current, it is estimated that 100 people are killed by rip currents in each year.

Going to the beach is an enjoyable pastime for many who live in and visit the state, and it is critical that residents of coastal areas like Sarasota, Lakewood Ranch and Bradenton – all quick drives to the sand and water of Siesta Key, Longboat Key, Anna Marie Island, Casey Key and other popular area beach draws – be aware of the potential dangers of these local paradises.

According to the United States Lifesaving Association, rip currents are the leading surf hazard for all beachgoers. They typically appear at low spots or breaks in sandbars as well as near structures like jetties and piers.

With our top rated beaches – including Siesta Key, which has attracted the attention recently of both Dr. Beach and MTV, it’s important to also be prepared for things like rip currents.

Here are a few key identifiers for rip currents:

  • 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

The powerful channel of fast-moving water is one that should not be fought. Although instinct is to swim straight back to shore, this can quickly exhaust a swimmer. If caught in a rip current, you should swim parallel to shore and swim back at an angle.

It is important to note that rip currents do not pull people under water – they pull people away from the shore. However, drowning may result from panic, fatigue or a lack of swimming skills.

Knowing how to swim and being aware of some basic safety rules are key to avoiding and surviving riptides.

Safety guidelines include:

  • Swim on a lifeguard-protected beach whenever possible.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Use caution – if conditions seem unsafe, don’t take a risk.
  • If caught in a rip current, remain calm. Float or tread water to conserve energy.
  • If unable to reach the shore, draw attention to yourself by waving your arms and/or yelling.
  • Swim parallel to shore, not directly to shore.
  • Check surf conditions before heading to the beach.

Finally, if you see someone caught in a rip current, get help from a lifeguard or call 911. If possible, and without putting yourself at risk, throw something that floats to the victim and yell instructions on how to escape the rip current.

While we would love to believe that all accidents are preventable, we know that some are unavoidable, and damages and injury can happen unexpectedly. For those incidents, contact the highly experienced attorneys of Luhrsen Goldberg for a free evaluation. We’ll use our resources and do everything in our power to get you the justice you deserve.