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NWS Rip Current Safety Program
 
 

If you would like to share a personal rip current story, please contact: Deborah Jones. We would especially like to hear from those who have benefited from our rip current beach signs and Break the Grip of the Rip®! Brochure. See our Real Life International stories as well.

Real Life Story: Gladstone Avenue Beach, Margate City, NJ: 4 to 4:30 p.m., Sunday, August 23, 2013
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As I am writing this, I am laying awake in bed, thanking God for saving me, my 11 year old son, and my fiance from drowning this afternoon. It was a beautiful, sunny day today and being that we live 2 blocks from the beach, we decided to take advantage of such a lovely afternoon.

Around 4 pm, we took a walk down to the beach and went into the water. My son had his boogie board, and he and my fiance were going in search of some nice waves to ride. I noticed quickly that the waves were pulling me down beach and away from the lifeguard stand fairly quickly. I kept telling my son to walk back toward the lifeguard stand so that they would be able to keep an eye on him. We all made it back in view of the lifeguard stand.

Not feeling in danger, we continued swimming and began swimming straight out into the ocean. We were all together when I noticed that we were at the end of the fishing pier, which is pretty far out. I mentioned this to my fiance and then realized that my feet were no longer touching the ocean floor. My fiance then said to me "I am being pulled backwards." That is when panic set in. I tried my hardest to swim away from the currrent but it was too strong. Waves started crashing over me and I couldn't catch my breath. Just then a wave came and my fiance pushed my son who was on his boogie board towards me. I grabbed the board and was going to try to flag down the lifeguard when, just then, my feet were able to touch the ocean floor.

We were stuck out in the current for only about 7 minutes but it felt like an eternity. I just kept thinking "Oh my God, I might die right now." We were exhausted and pushed about a half a block away from where we started from. Thankfully, we all made it out okay but it scared me to death. I can't even sleep tonight and am not sure whether or not I will be going into the ocean anytime soon. I told the lifeguard how bad the current was, and he said he was milliseconds away from jumping in to rescue us.

Unfortunately, in our town, we do not have flags that let us know about the currents. I am not sure if we have rip current signs posted anywhere, however I would love to find out how we can get that information out there. I am 36 years old and a pretty good swimmer, but today was the scariest day of my life and reminded me to respect the ocean. When we got home I had my son watch your video on how to swim out of rip currents. Thank you for all you do in raising awareness on such an important topic.

Real Life Story: Greg, North Carolina
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It was August 2011, and a tropical storm had just passed but was well out to Bermuda. I was body surfing with my boogie board on Figure Eight Island, NC, with some surfers. The waves weren't breaking much closer to shore, so I decided to paddle out to where the surfers were in head deep water. Finally, a wave came that the surfers caught and rode. I was out for several more minutes expecting the surfers to return where I was. Instead they stayed in much closer to shore. I then realized that I couldn't hear the waves anymore. There were also bubbles on the surface all around me, but they didn't seem to be moving. I realized I was caught in a rip current.

I could see my wife and the beach umbrella getting smaller and smaller on the shore. She was looking in my direction, but never saw me waving for help. I tried to swim with the boogie board at first, but if you've ever tried to do that you know that won't work. I kept it with me though using the side stroke to swim. I watched the weather channel NOAA warnings and knew what to do when caught in a rip current. My training kicked in and I remember to swim along the shore for a while and then make my way back to shore. I was so exhausted when I made it to shore that I dropped. Nobody on the beach noticed what happened. I kissed the ground.

Real Life Story: George, New Jersey
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For water sports, Mother Nature just humbled me when I was surfing 4 days ago in NJ. As you may know, our East Coast is post super Storm Sandy. My surf leash broke. I have acquaintances who surf and who surf without a leash. Perhaps, I erred on the temptation to continue surfing, but our present rip currents may be at an all time high. While I retrieved my board on 1st occasion, my 2nd wipe out separated me from my board which went onto the beach leaving me boardless. I urge everyone to err on the side of safety, even if one is life guard trained, scuba trained, & brought up swimming surfer. I could not swim the seemingly easy 5 yards onto the beach. I could have died had it not been for a young surfer who saw me in distress and shoved my board back to me. Stay with your board on your 1st occasion.'

I should have surfed body board style w/ my retrieved board back in. It is also possible to relax & take a few seconds to observe and feel tide direction then swim beachward at 1st opportunity. Prevention of incident would have been to replace the leash sooner, it was 7 years old-used monthly since purchase.

Real Life Story: Mary Cate, Oregon
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My husband and I wanted to float behind where the waves were breaking, because we wanted a peaceful, less turbulent experience. We'd done this several times at a different beach with no trouble. We found at first that we were able to come and go from where we could touch bottom, so we felt there was no reason to be concerned. We headed back out where we couldn't touch bottom again, and enjoyed the waves, which seemed to be getting bigger. My brothers were in the surf and called to us beckoning with large arm movements. We thought they just wanted us to join them in the more turbulent area, and we voiced our enthusiasm for the fun of where we were at. It never crossed our minds that we were in danger. It wasn't long after that that we noticed that we were quite a bit further from shore than we were just a short time before. My husband suggested we head back in. I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, thinking about what I'd been told about rip currents. I suggested maybe we should swim to the side, but at the same time, I felt uneasy about going to a place out of sight of our family. My husband expressed confidence that we should just swim slowly and steadily towards shore. We did so, but I kept feeling that sick sense of dread, and would increase my fury of motion. He would talk to me, encourage me to conserve strength and swim slowly. "But we are losing this fight!" my mind seemed to scream, "So I must fight *harder!*"

At this point, the waves seemed truly daunting. I didn't think waves this far out could break, but they were breaking over us. If I focused all my attention on breathing at appropriate times and keeping my head above water between waves, I would've been fine, but with my single-mindedness to somehow overcome the current, I was accidentally taking in seawater, some into swallowed, but a tiny bit coughed in. Because of my intense emotion, this time seemed very long. I felt certain that our family knew of our plight and was getting help, but I wondered what was taking them so long! Suddenly I saw two swimmers coming towards us in wetsuits with boards. I just assumed they were the help my family called for. They were not. They were surfers there to have fun like everyone else. But they knew we were in danger, and they acted quickly. They urged both me and my husband to get on their boards. This was a great relief, and I thought it was all over and all was well. I kept repeating over and over, "Thank you for saving us!" But it wasn't over yet.

One of the men was more confident than the other. They discussed swimming sideways, but could detect no advantage to one side or the other. So they opted for straight in. The man helping me was the more certain one. With every wave, he pushed the board forward as hard as he could, trying to get the most advantage out of the wave. The waves were throwing me hard, and one capsized me. He would warn me when big waves were approaching, instructing me to hold on tight, don't let go. At last, we seemed to be getting closer, and he said, "This is it, you're going to be OK." But that last wave threw me to the ground hard and I hyper-extended my back with a sudden force. I hoped that I hadn't just permanently injured my spine! But moments later I was standing on my own two feet. Amongst cheers of a large, watching crowd, I was welcomed in, people asking me how I was. The woman who called 911 put a blanket around me, and told me she'd been caught in a rip current in Mexico where she had to swim along the shore for a mile before making it back in.

All I could think of is, "Where is my husband? Is he safe?" They said he'd gotten closer, but then been pulled back out again. They finally came in, but further south from us, finding advantage in going side-ways. Once we were out, the Coast Guard and an ambulance had just arrived.  All was well, and we were so glad for real-life heroes! A woman had died in a rip current in this area just the day before.

Real Life Story: Joanna, Michiganblue line

I am from Michigan and didn’t know there are rip currents on the Great Lakes in places. But being from the Midwest, the sign posted at Pepper Park on North Hutchinson Island was the first place I saw the diagram of a rip current. I learned a lot from just that one sign. My boys and I used to stop at the sign each morning and review the information on rip currents before getting in the water. Just this past week we were visiting again and while in the water I felt a strong suction out toward the ocean. It wasn’t super deep where I was standing so I was fine, however, if that had been my 4 year old playing too far away from me, it easy to see how he could have been pulled out even in shallow water. We had a great week at the beach and thanks to the signs posted, have always been mindful of the possible hazards around us.

Real Life Story: Kam, New Jerseyblue line

NWS notes that while we celebrate teaching live saving skills and heroic actions, even adults who are strong swimmers have died trying to save rip currents victims. Always swim on a beach with a life guard and let the life guard perform the rescue. When not on a protected beach, yell out to the person caught in the rip to swim parellel to the shore. Do NOT attempt a rescue if you are not a trained life guard.

Last year, on July 17, Justyna Harrington and her family were at the beach in Sea Bright NJ, and the rip current caught her 9 year daughter Gabi. Gabi and her brother Kam are good swimmers but Gabi panicked and was fighting the current. Kam grabbed his boogie board and swam out to her, for roughly 30 yards, and brought her back to the beach. Kam was 6 years old at the time.

For this act of bravery and selflessness, Kam, a Cub Scout in Pack 261, has recently been awarded the BSA Medal of Heroism. The Heroism Award is awarded to a youth member or adult leader who has demonstrated heroism and skill in saving or attempting to save life at minimum risk to self. First awarded in 1923, only 121 of these awards have been given in 2011. We are pretty sure that Kam is one of the youngest Scouts to receive this award.

Real Life Story: Cindy, East Coastblue line

This past Saturday evening, my husband and I went to the beach. We go once a year. We waded out in waist high water and had fun jumping into the waves which were larger than usual. The life guards were flying the yellow flags also. We made sure we stayed away from the nearby fishing jetty. All of a sudden we couldn't touch the bottom. We tried to swim but couldn't. Then we found ourselves over rocks that were sharp and jagged. Probably left from the hurricane. We tried swimming more but it was very hard. It took a bit to realize we were in a rip current. The waves kept breaking over my head and I was getting tired. I started to panic. I kept calling my husband to save me. I was so scared. I also didn't think the life guard was still there.

It seemed like a long time and I finally got back on the rocks. I would swim with the wave then plant my feet in the rocks to hold me when the water rushed out. It was very hard. I finally made it to shore but my husband didn't. I was worried he would be too tired because he kept coming back for me. I prayed to God to stop the waves and give me strength. He did. I got the life guard and he got my husband. I have never been so terrified in my life. I wish I had read about rip currents before this happened. I'm 51 and my husband is 54. We are in fair shape. If we hadn't been we may not have made it.

Real Life Story: Bill, South Carolinablue line

On August 8, 2011, my son Ryan and I went for one last swim at Garden City Beach, SC before heading back home. He was riding the waves in and I was just enjoying the cool water as it had been so hot. After being in the water for about 40 minutes I noticed all the waves had gone. About that time we could hear a woman yelling from shore for her son to “come back in, you’re too far out”. We turned our heads to see who she was yelling to and saw this 10 year old boy in distress. He had a Styrofoam boogie board next to him but didn’t realize it was there as he appeared to be panicking.

Ryan swam toward him and got to him after about his 3rd time going down. He was under water so Ryan went under and pushed him to the top. I arrived a few seconds later and grabbed the boy at which point he tried to climb on top of me. By this time the people on shore were gathering and, getting smaller. I can’t say for sure how far out we were but it had to be at least 75 to 100 yards. I had a hold of the boy and began swimming, to no avail, back to shore. I swam as hard as I could for what seemed like forever but was probably 5 to 7 minutes.

The lifeguards got to us just in time as I’m not sure how much longer I could have lasted. I’ve been caught in a couple of rip currents before but for whatever reason, I did not swim parallel to shore. I don’t think that little boy knew how to swim and was relying on his boogie board for safety. I’m happy to say we are all doing fine.

Real Life Story: Jim, North Carolinablue line

On Jun 21, 2011, I was playing in the surf at Nags Head, NC, with my two sons and my two nephews. We were enjoying crashing into the waves. Occasionally, I would dive under a wave and ride the next swell back into the beach. I remember diving under a wave and coming back up and thinking that the water had grown very calm. I looked over my shoulder and thought to myself that I was further out than what I felt comfortable with. I looked back to the sea, so I wouldn't get pounded by the next wave, and then back to the beach. In that short time I had been pulled further out to sea and I could see everyone on the beach getting smaller. I was scared but I did not panic. I waved my hands over my head and yelled for help. I knew I was still getting pulled out and that I would need help to survive. I looked up to God and asked for his help because I did not want to die. On the beach, the rest of my family got the kids out of the water and called 911. One of our friends donned a life vest and swam out to me. We floated back into the shore together and got back on dry ground at about that time the first responders arrived.

I am 45 years old and a good swimmer. During basic training in the Navy many years ago I learned how to float and how to tread water. I was fortunate on many levels that day, I did not panic and one of our friends happened to have life vest because he had brought his sea kayak to the beach. Our family was probably most fortunate because it was me who was pulled out to sea and not one of our kids. My advice to others is to swim in protected waters and to bring a couple of life vests down to the shore with you just in case you need them. You can purchase these for less than $20 each and had I known of the danger beforehand I would have had these with us.

Real Life Story: Melissa, North Carolinablue line

I was caught in a rip current recently and lived thanks to NWS materials. We benefitted from the Break the Grip of the Rip campaign and the materials put out by the Eena Project in the Outer Banks in a couple of ways: From the materials left in our beach house packet and the magnet on the fridge, I did remember that we needed to swim parallel to the shore--we had been teaching my nephews that earlier in the trip since they don't swim in the ocean that much. What really saved us was remembering the instruction to wave your arm to get help. I did that in a big way and know that was what brought people to us. I think the beaches where we were would have benefited from more signs like I've seen on other beaches.

Real Life Story: Joshua, Floridablue line

My son, Joshua Scurlock, drowned while swimming with a friend near Patrick Air Force Base in Florida. He was 19 years old. His friend helplessly watched him drown after the exhaustion of fighting the current to save his own life. I tell him every chance I get, that he did the right thing staying on the beach and getting help. Of course, he feels extremely guilty for not going back in the water to save him, something he could not physically do. Instead he did the best thing possible, yell for help.

An experienced surfer was just coming in for the day because the waves were so rough and risked his own life to try rescue my son. It took everything within him to pull his body up onto his surfboard and maneuver his way back up to shore. When they reached the beach, he began CPR; however, it was only seconds before paramedics arrived. I don't really know how long my son was in the water but I can imagine the difficulty the surfer experienced while fighting the current to reach him. He had already drowned when he reached his lifeless body. I thank God every day for that surfer. He brought my son's body back to me. He could have been washed out to sea and I would not have had the chance to bring him home for a proper burial.

Josh grew up in Indiana and we frequently visited Florida, as many other Hoosiers do. I moved Josh to his "paradise" apartment in Cape Canaveral, FL, on September 1, 2004. Josh died November 13, 2004. He was fulfilling his dream, living five blocks from the beach, appreciating the beauty of the ocean every day. He loved the water and he was a great swimmer. Unfortunately, living far from the ocean, he was never taught about rip currents.

I'm now trying to raise rip current awareness in my state so that no one else loses their life. I'm told over half of the deaths from rip currents are people from the Midwest. This is all the more reason to raise awareness. Everyone should know how to escape from a rip current. We teach our children what to do if caught in a tornado because we see a lot of them in the state of Indiana. Why do we not teach them about rip currents? Is it because we don't have any water here? I don't know the answer but I'm doing everything in my power to change it. If you talk to people here, they don't even know what a rip current is, much less how to save their own life if caught in one. I'm starting with the high schools around spring break time. It's the perfect opportunity to help spread awareness. All of the kids flock to the beaches during vacation. They all relate to my son's story and realize that this can happen to them. My goal is to reach the entire Midwest through our school systems.

John Lane, the heroic surfer who risked his life to bring me my son's body, gave me the gift of being able to tell my son good-bye and kiss one last time. Tell everyone you know about rip currents and their potential dangers of taking a life. Help me in raising awareness, no matter where you live. I hope no one else has to say that kind of goodbye.

Real Life Story: Michael, Delawareblue line

August 23, 1998, 24-year-old Michael drowned while swimming at Rehoboth Beach, DE. Michael was an active member of Boy Scout Troop 495, based at Lutheran Church of St. Andrew. Michael earned his Eagle Scout three weeks before he drowned.

After graduating from Einstein High School in 1992, he volunteered as a White House intern. He and his father loved to travel. Michael loved the beach. The weekend Michael drowned, the Johnson's were on a beach camping trip at Rehoboth Beach, DE. Rip currents developed suddenly placing several people in peril. Michael was swept away. His body washed ashore two and a half blocks from where he disappeared.

In honor of their son's memory and to help prevent what happen to their son from happening to others, Carl and Susan Johnson work closely with the Boy Scouts and the Dewey Beach Patrol educating the Scouts in water safety and rescue techniques.

Real Life Story: Kathryn, North Carolinablue line

I was at Wrightsville Beach, NC, 7 years ago (I think) and a hurricane was blowing up the coast. It was the day before they evacuated the beach because Cape Fear was in the path of a hurricane eye. The seas were higher than normal, but still very swimmable. I grew up swimming in the ocean and am very comfortable in it. I know about rip currents and fortunately, had learned what to do if I ever got caught. One of my favorite past times in the ocean is diving under breakers and floating over swells. 

That afternoon, I dove under a wave as I have done countless times, but when I surfaced and looked back over my shoulder, I was way out from the shore. I knew immediately what had happened. I tried swimming parallel to the shore, but was still in a very strong current and began to tire quickly.

Then a wave broke over my head, and I felt the panic rising. I know that panic is one's worst enemy in the water, so I floated and treaded water for a few minutes to catch my breath and relax. I could see my family on the shore trying to spot me in the water, but the swells were too big for them to see me waving. Once when I looked out to sea to keep an eye on the swells so I wouldn't be caught unawares again, I realized that just a little further out, there were surfers.

Suddenly the light bulb went off in my head. Instead of trying to make it back to shore on my own, I turned and swam further out to where they were. I told them what had happened and asked if one of them would allow me to accompany him into shore using his board as a boogie board for both of us. Of course, one of them agreed.

It took both of us to get far enough away from the current so we could paddle back into shore. I feel very fortunate that I recognized what had happened, knew not to panic, and was able to find a solution.

Every kid who swims in the ocean should be taught this so you will have an endless supply of Real Life Story, not a list of death statistics. As for myself, I still love the ocean and swim in it every chance I get.

Real Life Story: Bill, Floridablue line

Hi. My name is Bill Proenza and I am the Director for the Southern Region of the National Weather Service. My experience with rip currents is first hand. At the age of 11, I was swimming off the Florida Coast, near Key Biscayne, and found myself carried into deep water. I tried to swim toward shore but to no avail. After being pulled under the water once, I called for help. Fortunately, an experienced swimmer pulled me to safety. Following this event, I took lessons through the Red Cross swimming program. While the program helped me improve my swimming ability, it did not offer much insight on handling what we called "undertows" (rip currents). Nevertheless, the training did pay off two years later, when I had the chance to save a man who was trapped in a rip current, again off Florida's east coast. I noticed him struggling in the water and crying out for help. I swam behind him and managed to push him at an angle toward the shore. He told me he couldn't swim but found himself drawn into deeper and deeper water. It is my hope that you take these safety rules and the dangers of rip currents to heart. If you do so, your trips to the coast should be pleasant, enjoyable and safe for you, your family and friends.

Real Life Story: Toni, Alabamablue line

It was early fall of 2002 and my husband and I were down for a weekend at Gulfshores, Alabama with my sister and her boyfriend. It was our first afternoon there and I had seen how bad the tides were and decided not to go in the water; however my sister had another idea when she arrived. Without a care in the world and no regard to the wave action, she plunges in and took her boyfriend with her. Upon my realization she was in the water, I got to the beach in time to see her floating out and her boyfriend trying to make it to shore. I jumped in to swim out to my sister and before long, I felt the rip tide. There was no bottom left to the sea floor.

I had been in about 4 1/2 feet of water when this happened. I tried in vain to reach for my sister, who was struggling to swim towards the beach. I myself was stuck and could not swim inward. My husband pulled me from the tide and upon getting to shore, I ran for more help. It took 4 very strong young men to pull my sister in. I have never experienced something so terrifying in my life and even though I knew to swim sideways and out of the trap, my fear of drowning and of my sister drowning displaced all knowledge. I believe my sister has a healthy respect now for the water and as for me, I have never been back in. Just for the record, we are both in our early 40's and both know how to swim. This can happen to anyone and your best chance of survival is to be aware of the dangers present!


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Last Updated: November 8, 2013