What is a rip current? Here's how to escape safely if you ever get caught in one

Amid rising concerns over beach safety, knowing how to react if caught in a rip current could mean the difference between life or death. Here are a few things you can do to stay safe. 

What is a rip current?

If you've never seen a rip current, it looks like an unsuspecting shallow body of water that is on the surface of the ocean — but don't let that fool you. 

Rip currents are a string of water channels that simultaneously move quickly away from the shore. 

FOX 35 Storm Team Meteorologist Jessica Dobson explains how rip currents form. 

"We have waves crashing out ahead of that sandbar, closer to the shoreline specifically. But the thing is, water has to flow back out, so what essentially happens is the water looks for a low or a weak point in that sandbar and rushes out and that forms a very fast current – a rip current", said Dobson. These can move at a speed as high as 1 to 2 feet per second, Dobson added. 

A rip current's strength is dependent on the amount of water that is transported onto the breaches by breaking waves, according to the National Weather Service. A rip current's speed can reach several miles per hour.

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What can I do if I am caught in a rip current?

Rip currents are strong and can pull people away from the shore. 

According to the National Weather Service, there are a few things that people can do in advance to prepare for a rip current: 

  1. Swim at beaches that are guarded by the Beach Patrol and listen to their advice 
  2. Learn how to swim before going to the beach
  3. If you can swim, do not over-estimate your swimming ability and take chance

Here are the proper steps to take if caught in a rip current, according to the National Weather Service: 

  1. Signal for help in the direction of the Beach Patrol or lifeguard 
  2. Remain calm
  3. Float or tread in the water
  4. Move or swim sideways. Do not attempt to move directly towards the shore

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What do I do if I see others in a rip current?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a few tips on what to do if you see others stuck in a rip current"

  1. Do not go into the water 
  2. Stay calm
  3. Get help from a lifeguard or Beach Patrol
  4. If there is no lifeguard, or you cannot locate Beach Control call 911.
  5. Look for something that floats to throw in the water, to help the person in the rip current. For example, a float, or a life jacket. 
  6. If you do decide to enter the water, go with a flotation device. For example, a float, or a life jacket. 

RELATED: Another tourist drowns at popular Florida beach; marks fifth death in the last week

It's a misconception that rip currents only form during or after bad weather, but that is not true. 

According to the National Weather Service in Melbourne, rip currents can occur at any time of the year, but the majority of deaths in east central Florida occur from April through October when the combination of a large number of bathers and favorable meteorological/oceanographic conditions coincide.