Rip Current No. 1 Beach Danger
Learn what you can do to avoid beach death traps.
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