Although the waters in the middle of this image look safe, that is a rip current that can take even the most powerful swimmer out to sea.

The Outer Banks is an amazing place to visit. Our beaches are among the best in the world, the summer weather is just about perfect for a day at the beach and the Atlantic Ocean usually offers a wonderful place to cool off and enjoy the waters.

The important word in that description is “usually.” 

Usually does not mean always and it’s important to understand that on most days the Ocean is a marvelous place to swim, but there are days when going in the water is dangerous.

The dangers are almost always from rip current.

Rip Currents are channels of outflowing water. 

Here is a quick explanation of what is happening. As waves break in the surf zone—that would be the inflowing water—the action of the waves sill sometimes create a channel that will allow a water to push its way through the incoming waves and out to sea.

To get an idea of how powerful a rip current is, think of the power of a wave, then think about how much energy would be needed for the current to push its way through the incoming waves.

Rip currents are nearshore events. A rip current is caused by the incoming waves so when the current gets past the surf zone, the waves that created the channel no longer exist, the channel dissipates as does the riptide.

The danger exists in two areas. If a weak swimmer gets caught in a rip current, that is a very serious situation. But even good swimmers get caught sometimes and the danger there is that they panic and try to fight the current.

Some safety tips:

  1. If the red flags are flying do not go in the water. In the summer, the red flags are almost always fling to warn of rip current. The National Weather Service has gotten quite good at predicting them, so if the flags are flying please do not go in the water.
  2. Swim by a lifeguard. Outer Banks lifeguards are very professional and they are very good.
  3. Always go to the beach with someone…or a group.

The Outer Banks is a great place to visit. With a little caution and bit of knowledge it gets even better.