In the last two weeks, more than 2 dozen people have been pulled from Gulf waters due to strong rip currents. Four people have drown.
What is a riptide or rip current?
Typically, a rip current forms when the tide is rougher than usual and breaks over a sand bar, sucking a canal out of the sand. When the water rolls over that sand bar again, there is a tunneling effect. Water is trying to pull out even as it is pushing in. If you are captured in that pull, it is almost impossible to break free and if you fight it, you will drown.
If you want to survive, you have to allow the rip current to pull you out. Then, swim parallel to the shore before swimming back in to the sand.
A common misconception is that you have to be deep to be captured in a rip current. Actually, you can be ankle deep and feel the sand pulled out from under your feet when a wave breaks. The suction can be extremely strong.
How do you know when there is a rip current?
Unless you are practiced at spotting rip currents, you probably will never know one even if you saw it. Honestly, I am not even 100% sure that what I photographed was indeed a rip current. However, four people were pulled from the water within a mile (two right where I took the pictures) on this day. Each was a tourist from out of state.
That is why beach flags are extremely important and paying attention to their meanings can save your life.
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