Staying safe on Suncoast beaches: Be rip current aware. Rip-current deaths are on the rise this year, with at least 29 fatalities already. This hidden hazard demands your attention, especially with peak beach season approaching. Thankfully, most of these tragic incidents can be prevented. Despite awareness campaigns and improved forecasts, the number of rip-current deaths continues to climb.

What are rip currents? They’re strong, narrow streams of water that pull swimmers away from the shoreline and into the sea. They often form on calm, sunny days, making them even harder to predict. These currents can occur on any beach with breaking waves, particularly near low spots, breaks in sandbars, jetties, or piers.

So, how can you stay safe? Start by checking the daily rip-current forecasts provided by the National Weather Service. These forecasts categorize the risk as low, moderate, or high. While they can’t pinpoint the exact location and time of rip currents, they help raise awareness. Look out for visible signs such as foamy water, breaks in waves, or objects being carried offshore. However, rip currents are often challenging to spot, especially here on the Suncoast.

If you find yourself caught in a rip current, remember not to swim directly back to shore against the current. This can quickly drain your energy and put you at risk of drowning. Instead, swim parallel to the shore until you’re out of the current, which is typically around 50 to 100 feet wide. Alternatively, you can float or tread water, allowing the current to carry you past the breaking waves, where it often weakens. Some rip currents, though, can extend hundreds of yards offshore.

Another tip is to “know the wind direction.” If the wind is from the north, it may be easier to swim south. Let’s all stay vigilant and spread awareness about rip currents. Together, we can make Suncoast beaches safer for everyone. Have fun. Be safe. TBT

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