The directions below are how to save yourself from rip currents. Rip currents are the more dangerous relative of longshore currents. In all cases, you should first try to avoid them by recognizing the conditions where they can form, or in the case of rip currents, by the tell-tale signs they make in the water. Rip currents are most common a couple of hours before and after low tide. If you are caught in one of these currents, your first action should be to yell for help! Making sure other people know you are in danger is critical information we may need to rescue you if you’re unable to escape the current on your own.
Rip currents form when there is a stream of water moving out to sea, away from and perpendicular to the shore. They can sometimes be spotted from the beach as what appears to be calm water that seems to cause waves to be split in two. If you get caught in a rip current, you will be pulled away from shore. While it may seem counter-intuitive, DO NOT RESIST the current. Trying to swim directly back towards the beach will not work, and will result in fatigue setting in and panic. There is no reason to panic, rip currents are often easy to escape. If you are able, swim parallel to the beach until you are out of the current, which is usually a very narrow channel. Once out of the current, then swim or walk back to the beach. If you are tired or unable to swim, just float and let the current take you out away from the beach. Rip currents generally do not flow far out into the ocean, and once the current stop pulling you, simply swim parallel to the beach for a short distance and make your way back to the beach.
Oak Island Water Rescue tries to post updates on our website and Facebook page whenever the National Weather Service issues beach warnings for rip currents. They are very hard to predict, but there is some great research happening right here in North Carolina to make the future forecasting much more accurate and timely. We also have some information about how to rescue others that are caught in a rip current, but you should never attempt a rescue yourself without proper training and equipment. We know it is very hard to watch someone drown, but it is even harder to watch two.