The summer season draws us back to the beach and the water, but it’s important to remember the danger that can exist, even on calm days.
NEW JERSEY — The return of summer is drawing people to the beach, and especially on hot days, a dip in the ocean seems like the best way to control temperatures.
Swimming, bodyboarding, or even wading is traditional fun, but it’s important to remember that there are risks. Among them: rip currents.
Rip currents can strike at any time, even when the surf appears to be calm, says the National Weather Service. And they are one of the most frequent causes of drowning at the Jersey Shore.
“Good beach weather doesn’t always mean it’s safe to swim or even play in the shallows,” says the National Weather Service. “Rip currents often form on calm, sunny days.”
Rip currents cause drowning every summer on the Jersey shore, and lifeguards all over the coast rescue hundreds of people who get caught in them. There is a common denominator in most rip current deaths: swimming at an unattended beach.
The National Weather Service has information on how to spot a rip current, what to do if you get caught in one, and how you can save yourself if help isn’t nearby.
First words of advice: do not swim where lifeguards are not present.
In a rip current, the water will move away from the shore and can drag even the most skilled swimmers underwater and away in a matter of seconds.
Here’s what one looks like, in this 2021 photo by Gregory Andrus of Portraits of the Jersey Shore:
The water where the rip current exists is moving in the opposite direction of the waves breaking on the shoreline to the left of it as you look at the photo.
If you find yourself caught in a rip current, the National Weather Service says to take the following steps to escape:
- Don’t fight the current. She is a natural walker who travels at an average speed of 1-2 feet per second, but has been measured at a speed of 8 feet per second, faster than an Olympic swimmer.
- Relax and float to conserve energy. Staying calm can save your life.
- DO NOT attempt to swim directly to shore. Swim parallel to the shoreline until you escape the pull of the current. When you are free from the pull of the current, swim at an angle away from the current towards the shore.
- If you feel like you can’t make it to shore, relax, look towards shore, and call or wave for help.
- Remember: wave and shout… nothing in parallel.
The Mount Holly office of the National Weather Service forecasts rip current risk daily, but notes that “rip currents are always possible, especially near jetties and other structures.”
This 1-minute YouTube video on rip currents produced by the US Life Saving Association also shows what they look like and how to escape them.