MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is offering some tips to help swimmer stay safe in the sometimes hazardous waters of the ocean.
According to the NOAA website , rip currents are fast, powerful channels of water flowing away from the beach and out past the breaking waves. Swimmers are often caught off guard by the unsuspecting currents and dragged out to sea.
The US Lifesaving Association (USLA), a nonprofit group of lifeguards, says over 100 drownings due to rip currents occur in the US every year.
They said more than 80 percent of water rescues on surf beaches are due to rip currents.
USLA says rip currents are caused when some waves break more strongly than others. This difference in breaking speed causes circulation cells, or rip currents, as the water heads back out to sea.
The currents typically move one to two feet per second, but some have been measured at up to eight feet per second.
Avoiding ending up in a rip current in the first place is worth a pound of having to face one and there are signs to look out for to help beachgoers spot them before they end up in them.
NOAA says you should exercise caution if you see a channel of churning choppy water; an area of the water with a noticeable difference in color; a line of foam, seaweed or debris moving steadily out to sea; and/or a break in the incoming wave pattern.
If you are caught in one, you can save yourself and NOAA says one thing is important to help you do that: Stay calm. If you fight the current or try to swim back to shore against it, you will only wear yourself out.
Instead, NOAA says, swim parallel to the shore until you get out of the current and then swim at an angle back toward the shore.
If you cannot escape the current in that way, float or calmly tread water until the current fades. While doing that, try to face the shore, wave your arms and call for help.
NOAA says trying to swim out in a rip current to rescue someone is a bad idea.
They say to notify a lifeguard or call 911 instead and yell the instructions mentioned before. If possible, throw a life preserver or floatation device.
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