Can you spot a rip current from the shore?

Updated: Jul. 27, 2019 at 11:26 AM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Rip currents have taken many people’s lives this year alone.

High School seniors Ian Lewis and Paige Merical were caught in a rip current while on spring break in Emerald Isle. Lewis’ body washed ashore three days later, while Merical died in the hospital six days after the accident.

Just a month later, a 5-year-old boy and a 24-year-old man drowned off of Atlantic Beach. A Marine stationed at Camp Lejune drowned off Emerald Isle just days before that.

Rip currents are fast moving channels of water that move away from the shore. According to NOAA, it doesn’t matter how strong a swimmer you are- rip currents move faster than any Olympic Swimmer can and can take you hundreds of yards out in the blink of an eye.

You’ve likely seen the signs warning swimmers to be careful in the water, but spotting the currents themselves isn’t always easy.

You can see rip currents any day with breaking waves, but low-lying spots in the ocean near piers, jetties and sandbars are more susceptible to developing rip currents.

Its easiest to see rip currents from up high, like when you first enter the beach or from a lifeguard stand.

From the higher vantage point, you can better see gaps in the waves and channels of churning water- both signs of rip currents. Experts also say water in rip currents may look darker, dirty, frothy or discolored.

Lines of sea foam, seaweed or debris moving out to sea is also a strong indicator that you’ve found a rip current.

If you’re caught in one, the most important thing is to take a deep breath and avoid panic. Though rip currents take you out to sea, they will not pull you underwater.

People get in trouble with they exhaust themselves fighting the current and as a result aren’t able to keep their heads above water. Lifeguards recommend keeping calm, floating on your back to save your energy and trying to swim parallel to the shore to get out of the channel if you can.

If you see someone in trouble, get help from a lifeguard. If a lifeguard is not available, have someone call 911 and throw the victim an object that could keep them afloat like a boogie board or a raft.

WECT’s First Alert Meteorologists post a rip current forecast every day on the weather page- you can find it here.

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