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Rip Current No. 1 Beach Danger

Learn what you can do to avoid beach death traps.

Sandee's Story

What happened, Sandee learned later, was no less common than it was tragic. Ryan and his boogie board got caught in a strong longshore current. He called to his father for help. Larry followed along the shore, trying to coax Ryan to shore. He couldn't make it.

"So Larry dove in, and that was the last anybody saw of him," Sandee says. "Larry must have missed Ryan and kept looking for him until he wore out. This man who was on the shore -- Ken Brindley -- and some other men tried to help Larry. Another man got to Ryan and pushed him safely to shore. Ken kept swimming out -- he must have been going after Larry. "

Fighting the current as he looked for Larry in the deeper water, Brindley himself drowned.

It's a common scenario, says Peter Wernicki, MD, medical advisor to the U.S. and World Lifesaving Associations.

"It's often not the first person caught in the rip current, but the second or third who drowns," Wernicki tells WebMD. "The child who might be a bit more buoyant often comes out OK. But the dad who charges right in, he is the one who often succumbs. I think essentially it is a matter of exhaustion. People fight and fight and fight and start swallowing water and just go below the waves."

How To Survive a Rip Current

As deadly as rip currents are, it's not that hard to survive one -- if you stay calm and know exactly what to do.

"To get out, just tread water and allow the rip current to carry you out -- they tend to dissipate outside the breaking surf," Brewster says. "Then you can wait for help, or swim around the rip current and back to shore. But few people have the calm to do this. Most drown because they swim against it and tire out."

So for most people, Brewster recommends swimming parallel to the shore. One doesn't have to be a very strong swimmer to do this. Rip currents aren't exactly narrow, but they are concentrated in one place. In a short while, most swimmers should be outside the current and able to make it back to shore.

Sometimes the rip current is diagonal to shore. If you try to swim parallel to shore but aren't making any progress, Brewster says, turn around and swim parallel to shore in the other direction. That will do the trick.

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