Rip Tide and Beach Safety on Northwest Florida Beaches

A rip tide, or rip current, can quickly pull you out to sea. Follow beach safety standards and know what to do if you get caught in one.

Summer time means Florida beaches are filled with both locals and visitors. The stunning blue-green waters and white sand beaches of the Northwest Florida gulf coast attract thousands of beach-goers each year for some fun and sun. But even on sunny days you should always check the beach flag to determine the water conditions, and it doesn’t have to be raining or cloudy for there to be a rip tide.

What is a rip tide?
It’s not really a tide, which is the normal rise and fall of sea levels during the course of a day. The proper name is rip current, which is a powerful current of water moving away from the shore. Even in knee deep water, these currents are strong enough to knock you off your feet and carry you out to sea in seconds.

Rip currents are most prevalent after a storm, but it doesn’t have to be a stormy on the beach. Sometimes tropical storms or hurricanes far out in the gulf can create shoreline water conditions that cause a rip current to form, often in sandbar breaks near the shore.

Although rarely more than 30 feet wide, a rip current can extend as far as 1000 feet off shore. It can travel as fast as 3 miles per hour, which doesn’t sound like a much, but with the force of the water behind it, it can easily knock down a child and many adults.

What to do if you are caught in a rip current
If you are caught in a rip current don’t panic. You can get out of it but NOT by swimming to shore since it is pulling you AWAY from shore.


Remember it is only about 30 feet or so wide, so by swimming perpendicular to the flow, you will swim out. If it is too strong to swim, relax and float until you can start swimming, always parallel to the beach.

How to identify a rip current
A rip current can be identified by the flow of water perpendicular to the beach. It’s not as easy to see at sea level, but lifeguards have a better view from their lofty perch. They will tell you where there is a rip current if there is one, and to stay clear of it.

Remember, even if you are a strong swimmer, a rip tide or rip current can pull you out to sea, even from only knee deep water. The current is very strong.

Don’t put yourself or others who might try to help you in danger by going in the water where there is a rip current or if there is a double red flag.

For more information on that, go to Beach Flag Warnings and Beach Safety.

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