Rip Currents 101: What to Know Before Swimming in the Gulf Coast

rip currents gulf of mexico

How to Go to the Beach Without Being Pulled Into the Ocean

Summertime is beach time on the Gulf Coast. If you’re among the many Texans flocking to the beach for fun in the sun, it’s important to be aware of rip currents, how they work, and how to spot them.

Rip currents are strong jets of water that can rip you away from shore and into the ocean at an average speed of 5 mph. Channels of water near the shore, known as feeders, feed into the strongest part of the rip current, the neck, which rushes past the breaking waves and into the sea. The third and final component of a rip current is the head, where the current dissipates as it reaches the deep ocean.

Needless to say, getting caught in a rip current can be scary and dangerous. So how can you protect yourself from a danger in the water that you can’t even see clearly?

What Causes Rip Currents?

Rip currents can exist on any beach with breaking waves, and they tend to form around structures like jetties or piers and at low spots in sandbars. When waves move from the deep to shallow waters and break on the shoreline strongly in some areas and weakly in others, rip currents can be the result.

Planning Around Rip Currents

To avoid rip currents from ruining your day at the beach, check the rip current forecast from the National Weather Service before you go. You can also consult the Galveston Island Beach Patrol Rip Currents Page

It is also best to swim at beaches that have lifeguards. Lifeguards are trained to rescue swimmers caught in rip currents. The National Lifesaving Association estimates your chances of drowning at 1 in 18 million if you’re swimming at a lifeguard-protected beach.

What Do Rip Currents Look Like?

Once at the beach, look out for rip current warning signs posted along the beach. However, even if you don’t see warning signs for rip currents, assume they may be present at any surf beach. 

If you know what to look for, you can also see clues that a rip current may have formed. Keep an eye out for these signs of rip currents:

  • A narrow gap with darker, calmer water between breaking waves and whitewater
  • One area of the water that’s a different color than the rest 
  • A channel of churning water, or a line of foam or debris moving towards the open sea

What Should I Do if I’m Caught in a Rip Current?

rip currents what to doIf you get caught in a rip current you might feel like panicking, but the way out of danger begins with resisting that urge. Rip currents are stronger than you are. Attempting to out-swim a rip current or losing composure will only exhaust you and increase your risk of drowning.

Rip currents may pull you far from shore, but not underwater. If you’re caught in a rip current, try to relax and float or tread water to conserve your energy. Swim parallel to the shoreline at right angles to the current until 

you are clear of the rip current and can swim to shore.

Sometimes rip currents eventually lead back towards shore, and in this case you can float or tread water until you can safely swim back to shore.

For more health-related topics, tips, and recipes, make sure to follow along with our Hospitality Health ER blog. There you can read even more about staying safe at the beach in “3 Tips For Drowning Prevention at Galveston Beaches.” For giveaways, updates, and COVID-19 tips, like us on Facebook and Instagram