It was warm today. It was around 70. The streets became alive with folks getting out of their homes. With the warm weather comes the water sports, and every year people will drown.
Rip currents are a big issue at the shore. A rip current can form when you have a sandbar for example that traps the water from returning back to sea after the waves crash on shore. Usually a section of the sand bar, which they move constantly, will have a gap allowing the trapped water to escape back to sea. This area of returning water is the rip. Depending on the situation these currents can be anywhere from 1-2 feet per second to 8 feet per second. Not only can rip currents develop around sandbars, but they can be around jetties and piers as well. Surviving these situations is not a strength issue. The fact is even Olympic swimmers would be hard pressed to get out of these situation. To put this in a better perspective Michael Phelps swam the 200 meter freestyle at an average speed of 6.73 feet per second in Beijing 2008.
They say don’t panic, but that is usually in a situation that warrants panicking. If caught in a rip current, you need to let it take you out. The rip will slow down, and at this point you can swim perpendicular to the beach to break out of the current. Letting the current pull you out goes against all of you survival instincts. Your instincts tell you to get on land. Trying to swim back is fatal. If you are at a guarded beach, you have a chance of being rescued. I was a Red Cross swimmer in my young days and even well fit cardiac-wise, and I would not go more than waste deep in unguarded beaches. Like I said, swimming ability is not a guarantee you’ll make it out alive. I’ve been caught in these before, and they scared the hell out of me. One in fact off of Long Beach Island LBI. If you are on an unguarded beach and you see someone in trouble call 911. A lot of people drown trying to help others. You’re only a hero if you survive.
Another thing to watch for is swimming in rivers and creeks. The Delaware and its tributaries are tidal. NOAA tidal charts show roughly 1-2.2 feet per second on incoming and outgoing tides. Believe me that’s fast when you’re in it. Let’s take a situation that involves folks enjoying a hot Summer day with a rope swing on the Rancocas Creek. You land a bit far off shore, or maybe you wander into the channel (center). You find yourself being pulled downstream or upstream. You’ll recognize when you don’t have control anymore. This is where the panic sets in. I’ve been in this situation only with a raft though. That current moves fast at peak times. Your first reaction is to get back to your friends on the shore. This is almost certain death. You better be a damn good swimmer, and in good cardiovascular shape to get back. Like the rip current the solution is counter intuitive to your survival instincts. Don’t fight the current. Swim with it and move to one side or the other until you can reach the shore. You will be in a wooded or marsh land not near your friends, but you’ll be alive.
Be safe out there.