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Rip Current and Ocean Safety

All beachgoers must be aware of the potential for dangerous rip currents. Rip currents are powerful, channeled water currents flowing away from shore. They typically extend from the shoreline, to the surf zone, and past the breakers. Rip currents can occur at any beach with breaking waves.

The National Weather Service issues a Surf Zone Forecast that includes the rip current risk for many beaches. The Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue Squad flies colored signal flags from each lifeguard stand indicating the water conditions observed in the area:

  • Green Flag: Calm Conditions. No specific risks have been observed, however, swimmers should always remain alert to their surroundings.
  • Yellow Flag: Use Caution. Do not enter the water unless you are an experienced ocean swimmer.
  • Red Flag: Dangerous Conditions. Do not enter the water.
  • Black Flag: No Lifeguard on Duty

To identify a rip current, look for any of these clues before entering the water:

  • A channel of churning, choppy water
  • An area with a notable difference in water color
  • A line of foam, seaweed, or debris moving steadily seaward
  • A break in the incoming wave pattern

Any of the above clues may indicate the presence of rip currents. Rip currents are often not easily identifiable to the average beachgoer. For your safety, be aware of this major surf zone hazard. Polarized sunglasses make it easier to see the rip current clues provided above.

To stay safe at the beach this summer, here are some helpful tips about rip current safety:

  • Never swim alone.
  • Be cautious at all times, and always swim at a beach where there is a lifeguard on duty. If in doubt, don’t go out!
  • Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards.
  • If caught in a rip current, remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
  • Don’t fight the current. Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim towards shore.
  • If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water. When out of the current, swim towards shore.
  • If you are still unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself:  face the shore, wave your arms, and yell for help.
  • If you see someone in trouble, get help from a lifeguard. If a lifeguard is not available, have someone call 9-1-1. Throw the rip current victim something that floats and yell instructions on how to escape. Remember, many people drown while trying to save someone else from a rip current.

Learn more about Rip Currents and Ocean Safety: