What beachgoers need to know about rip currents, warning flags

Swimming near lifeguard always recommended

By Candace Campos - Meteorologist

Safety should remain first this holiday weekend.

ORLANDO, Fla. - Temperatures are heating up on the sand and in the water, meaning beach season is officially underway.

But as many head out to enjoy the sun and sand, knowing what hazards are out there is key to a fun and safe day at the beach. 

One of the most dangerous hazards on Central Florida’s beaches are rip currents. These are created when strong winds push large volumes of water onto the beach. All of that water has nowhere to go besides back out to sea. The water keeps building up onshore until it collects enough volume to create a new current but in reverse. 

Rip currents can also vary in intensity based primarily on the speed and direction of the wind. 
The more perpendicular the winds are to the shore, the stronger the currents will be.

[READ: Tips to stay safe when dealing with rip currents]

For example, a Northeasterly wind flow could cause some weak currents while a straight east wind will enhance the risk of a stronger pull. Higher wind speeds could also play a vital role in the intensity of the currents. Stronger east breeze will produce stronger currents than a weak east breeze.

If you do find yourself caught in a rip current, there are a few steps you should take to escape the pull.

First, do not panic. If you begin to get tired, turn on your back and float for a few seconds to rest your arms and legs.

Next, start swimming parallel to the coastline until you begin to feel the pull relax.

From there, start swimming back to shore at an angle. Many panicked swimmers try swimming straight back to shore. That causes them to swim directly against the current, which increases their risk of drowning due to fatigue.

One of the first things beachgoers should do when arriving at the beach is to look for the colored beach flag, located near lifeguard towers. These flags are posted to identify different tide and surf conditions in that area. This nationwide warning flag system was adopted by the International Lifesaving Federation. 

 

No matter the day or the color of the flag, it is always best to swim near a lifeguard and never let your guard down while you’re in the water.

Enjoy the beach season, have fun and stay safe.

Click here for additional tips on how to stay safe when caught in a rip current.

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