Rip Current Safety in South Walton
While South Walton’s 26 miles of beaches are arguably the biggest draw to the area, the stunning beauty should never distract you from safety.
And perhaps one of the biggest factors to be aware of are powerful rip currents which periodically appear near shore in the Gulf. While they can certainly be dangerous, being prepared is the best way to avoid trouble.
What is a Rip Current?
Rip currents are narrow channels of fast-moving water that are prevalent along the East, Gulf and West coasts of the United States. Overall, they account for roughly 80 percent of beach rescue situations. Often confused with rip tides, rip currents are actually different. A rip tide is a type of current associated with the swift movement of tidal water through inlets and the mouths of estuaries and harbors.
How to Identify a Rip Current
You can spot a rip current by looking for darker-color surf that indicates deepening water. You may also notice murky brown water caused by sand getting stirred up from the bottom. Over an offshore sand bar, you may see smaller, unorganized waves alongside more evenly breaking waves. You’ll also see waves breaking further out to sea on both sides of the rip current.
If You’re in a Rip Current
If you ever find yourself caught in a rip current, the first and foremost thing you should remember is to stay calm. The current won’t pull you under. It will only pull you away from shore. Just keep in mind that it will eventually dissipate and release you. Rip currents can move at speeds of up to eight feet per second – faster than an Olympic swimmer. Allow your body to stay relaxed and float so that you won’t burn all your energy. If possible, yell and wave to attract the attention of people on shore. Continue to float or swim parallel to shore until you are free from the current. Once free, swim at an angle toward shore, allowing any waves to help push you forward.
Helping Someone Caught in a Rip Current
If you’re on shore and see someone caught in a rip current, don’t try to rush in after them, as you will be caught in the current as well. Call 911 or have someone else call, making sure to provide accurate landmarks so they can pinpoint your location. Alert a trained lifeguard, or if one is not available, throw in an object that floats and the victim can reach. Do your best to maintain visual contact with them until help arrives.
Of course, the best way to avoid a rip current is to be mindful in advance. South Walton’s beaches feature a dedicated flag system to keep beachgoers aware of water conditions. A red flag flying indicates “high hazard” for strong surf and/or currents, and “knee deep is too deep” as far as being in the water. A double red flag means that the water is closed to the public, and going in is strictly prohibited. We even have a text service that will send automated updates to anyone signed up, letting them know the Gulf conditions before they head to the beach. To sign up, simply text “SAFETY” to 31279.
When possible, we encourage you to swim near a trained lifeguard. South Walton Fire District lifeguards are stationed at all our regional beach accesses during peak season. Find RBA locations at visitsouthwalton.com/beach-bay-access-locations/.
Just as it’s important to stay calm if caught in a rip current, you should stay smart before you step into the surf. Using our text service and paying attention to the beach flags will help ensure you enjoy a safe, fun-filled day on South Walton’s sugar-white sand beaches.