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Governor Crist And State Agencies Encourage RIP Current Awareness

June 8, 2009

Tools like surf zone forecasts and rip current educational signs advise beach visitors about surf hazards

TALLAHASSEE - Recognizing June 7-13 as Rip Current Awareness Week, Governor Charlie Crist recently signed a proclamation to promote awareness and reduce the dangers of rip currents in Florida’s coastal waters. The United States Lifesaving Association estimates that rip currents cause more than 100 deaths each year, as well as accounting for more than 80 percent of rescues performed by surf beach lifeguards.


rip-current-awareness1“Florida’s blue waters are one of its most beautiful natural treasures, but can also pose risks for those who swim unaware of its potential dangers,” said Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Michael W. Sole. “By understanding how to recognize the danger of a rip current and what to do if caught in one, we can all help ensure more safe trips to Florida’s award-wining beaches.”

Rip Current Awareness Week, promoted through a partnership between DEP, the Florida Division of Emergency Management, the Florida offices of the National Weather Service, the Southeast and South Atlantic Regions of the United States Lifesaving Association, and the Florida Beach Patrol Chiefs Association, reminds beach visitors to be alert and knowledgeable about rip currents at surf beaches. Experts also advise beachgoers to know how to swim, never swim alone and if in doubt, don’t go out into the water.

“Everybody needs to understand their ability as a swimmer and observe posted surf advisories,” said Interim State Emergency Management Director Ruben D. Almaguer. “The dangers of this natural hazard can be avoided by following basic safety steps and respecting the power of water.”

Rip currents are powerful, channeled currents of water flowing away from shore, and can occur at any beach with breaking waves. They typically extend from the shoreline, through the surf zone, and past the line of breaking waves. If caught in a rip current, remember to:

  • Remain calm.
  • Don’t fight the current.
  • Swim out of the current, then to shore.
  • Float or tread water if you cannot escape.
  • If you need help call or wave for assistance.

The Florida Coastal Management Program distributes rip current educational signs to local governments and public parks throughout Florida free of charge. Many National Weather Service offices include a daily rip current outlook in the Surf Zone Forecast. Describing rip current risk in a three-tiered structure (low, moderate, or high) this outlook is communicated to lifeguards, emergency management, media and the general public, and is available online at: http://www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov/forecasts.shtml

In addition to rip current awareness education, DEP’s Florida Coastal Management Program developed a uniform warning and safety flag system in 2002 for use by Florida’s beachfront communities. DEP consulted with the United States Lifesaving Association, the International Life Saving Federation, state agencies and local governments to design a warning flag system that is simple to use and easy to interpret, based on the flag design and color coding proposed by the International Life Saving Federation. To encourage use of the system, the warning flags and interpretive signs to explain the flag’s meanings are provided upon request free of charge annually to beachfront communities. Flag warnings and colors are:

  • Red over Red (two flags flying): Water closed to the public.
  • Red: High hazard, high surf and/or strong currents.
  • Yellow: Medium hazard, moderate surf and/or currents.
  • Green: Low hazard, calm conditions, exercise caution.
  • Purple: Dangerous marine life.

For more information on rip currents, beach safety flags and Florida’s Coastal Management program, visit http://www.dep.state.fl.us/cmp/. To view the Governor’s proclamation visit http://www.dep.state.fl.us/secretary/events/rip_current.pdf

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