Rip current safety

rip current diagram

Read this page in Spanish

A number of people have drowned in the Pacific Ocean, and experts believe a majority of these deaths happen because people panicked when a rip current pulled them from shore. Nationally, lifeguards rescue approximately 60,000 people from drowning a year, and an estimated 80 percent are caused by rip currents.

Signs of a rip current

  • A break in the incoming wave pattern
  • A channel of churning, choppy water
  • A line of foam or debris moving seaward
  • A difference in water color

If caught in a rip current

  • Stay calm
  • Don’t fight the current
  • Swim in a direction following the shoreline (parallel to the shore)
  • Float or tread water if you’re unable to escape by swimming. When the current weakens, swim at an angle (away from the current) toward shore.
  • If you cannot reach shore, draw attention to yourself. Face the shore, call or wave for help.

Helping someone else

  • Many people have died while trying to rescue others caught in rip currents.
  • Don’t become a victim yourself. If a lifeguard is not present, shout directions on how to escape the current.
  • If possible, throw something that floats to the rip current victim. Call 911.

Further information 

rip current infographic - see transcript for text

If caught in a rip:

  1. Don't fight the current
  2. Swim out of the current, then to shore
  3. If you can't escape, float or tread water
  4. If you need help, call or wave for assistance

Learn how to swim - Never swim alone - If in doubt don't go out.

Deaths due to rip currents in the US: 2015: 42 deaths; 2016: 68 deaths, 2017: 70 deaths

Break the grip of the rip