Rip Current Education in the USA

On 24 May 2004, the United States Lifesaving Association and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (US) announced the commencement of a national rip current awareness programme at a press conference covered by CNN and other national media.

Speaking at the kick-off event were USLA President B. Chris Brewster (also President for the Americas Region of ILS), NOAA administrator Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, PhD (ret.), and Sandee LaMotte, whose husband CNN founder Larry LaMotte drowned in a rip current in 2003. NOAA includes the National Weather Service and Sea Grant, a research branch of the US government.

USLA has determined that rip currents are the primary cause of over 80% of rescues from drowning at surf beaches. It is therefore postulated that rip currents are the primary cause of death in over 80% of drownings at surf beaches, in the absence of timely rescue. USLA has also estimated that over 100 people die each year due to rip currents in the United States only. This is more deaths than are attributed to lightning, hurricanes, or tornados. Rip currents are the greatest threat to safety at surf beaches in the US.

As a result of the collaboration, USLA and NOAA have developed a brochure for distribution to the public and a sign for posting at surf beaches. The artwork for each is being made available at no cost for use of any community or organisation that wishes to reproduce the materials. In this way, the cost to USLA and NOAA is minimal, but a consistent, joint message on rip currents is made available nationally.

The brochure and sign both include a new, simplified graphic of a rip current, as well as information on rip current avoidance and survival.

Some recommendations:

  • Swim near a lifeguard: The chance of drowning at a beach protected by lifeguards is 1 on 18 million.
  • Learn to Swim.
  • Check with lifeguards before swimming.
  • If in doubt, don’t go out.

The material also includes tips on identifying rip currents, how to survive rip currents, and how to help others.

The National Weather Service (NWS) has begun an effort to predict the weather conditions that may increase the likelihood of rip currents. Since NWS forecasts are used by news media, these rip current advisories are increasingly becoming a common feature of US television and newspaper reporting.