Rip Current Risk Elevated Along Gulf Coast, Officials Say

State emergency management officials warned beachgoers in Pinellas and much of Florida's Gulf Coast to remain vigilant Thursday and Friday.

State emergency management officials warned Thursday of an elevated risk of rip currents along much of Florida's Gulf Coast.

“Strong onshore winds and waves will bring a high risk of rip currents and less than ideal boating conditions to much of Florida’s coast today,” said Florida Division of Emergency Management meteorologist Brad Schaaf in a media release. “Beachgoers and boaters should be sure to check forecasts and follow necessary safety precautions while visiting the coast.”

Officials warned beachgoers to remain vigilant and offer the following tips:

When at the beach:

  • Before you leave for the beach, check the latest National Weather Service forecast for local beach conditions. Many offices issue a Surf Zone Forecast.

  • Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards. Lifeguards are trained to identify hazards.

  • Know the meaning of and obey warnings represented by colored beach flags.

    Different beaches may use different colors but a commonly used series include:

    • Double Red: Beach is closed to the public

    • Single Red: high hazard, e.g., strong surf or currents

    • Yellow: medium hazard

    • Green: Calm conditions although caution is still necessary

    • Purple: Flown with either Red or Yellow: Dangerous marine life

  • Stay at least 100 feet away from piers and jetties. Permanent rip currents often exist alongside these structures.                                               

  • Pay especially close attention to children and persons who are elderly when at the beach. Even in shallow water, wave action can cause loss of footing.

  • Be cautious. Always assume rip currents are present even if you don’t see them.

If caught in a rip current:

  • DON’T PANIC. Remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.

  • NEVER swim against the rip. Stay afloat and signal for help.

  • Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim at an angle—away from the current—towards shore.

  • If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water.

  • Draw attention to yourself: face the shore, wave your arms, and yell for help.

 If you see someone in trouble, don't become a victim too:

  • Get help from a lifeguard or, if one is unavailable, have someone call 9-1-1.

  • Throw the rip current victim something that floats--a lifejacket, a cooler, an inflatable ball.

  • Yell instructions on how to escape.

 Practice Safe Boating:

  • Check forecasts well ahead of time.

  • Be sure everyone aboard is wearing a life jacket.

  • If caught in a thunderstorm, go below deck if possible, and stay away from masts or ungrounded metal objects.

  • Have a VHF marine band radio on board.

  • Know the limitations of your boat. If small craft advisories or gale warnings are issued, you should postpone travel.  


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