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A relaxing day at the beach has the potential of curing what ails you, but a hidden danger lies beyond the sand.

Each year approximately 150 deaths are caused by rip currents across the U.S., and it’s especially prevalent on Florida beaches where these natural terrors kill more people than thunderstorms, hurricanes and tornados combined.

Rip currents can occur along any coastline that has breaking waves. As the waves travel from deep to shallow water, they eventually break near the shoreline, causing a strong, swift current that heads back seaward. Currents flowing away from the coast are called rip currents and can pull a person thousands of feet out to sea.

Before entering the water, always look for signs of rip currents such as:

  • a channel of churning, choppy water
  • obvious differences in water color
  • a line of foam, seaweed or debris moving steadily seaward
  • a break in the incoming wave pattern

If you find yourself being pulled into the open water, your instincts will tell you to swim toward shore. But then you’re just swimming against the current, which can reach speeds of 5 mph and drain precious energy if fought. Instead, stay calm and swim parallel to the shore, where the current is weaker. Eventually, you will swim out of the current.

If you see someone in trouble and a lifeguard is not in sight, have a bystander call 911; get a floatable object and do your best to throw it toward the victim; and loudly provide instructions about how to escape the current — swim parallel to the shore.

A little knowledge about rip currents and a healthy respect for the powerful ocean can go a long way toward ensuring that your day at the beach is relaxing and safe.

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