Remember that swimming in the ocean is much more challenging than in a pool or lake
Before visiting a surf beach, check the USLA Web site (www.usla.org) for safety tips and a reminder about rip currents
Choose a beach that has lifeguard protection
Check with the lifeguards before entering the water for their safety advice.
Dennis in Illinois asks: If you are pulled out to sea in a rip current, how do you save yourself from drowning?
Chris Brewster: Dennis, the first thing to remember is what not to do. That makes it easier to understand what you should do. If you sense you are being pulled away from shore or you are swimming back to shore and making no progress, you're probably in a rip current. If you try to fight it, the rip current will often wear you out and you'll get no closer to shore anyway. Think of it as an aquatic treadmill with no off switch. You want to step to the side, but in the case of a rip current, you want to swim to the side. Swim sideways, parallel to shore until you feel you are out of the pull of the current. Then swim in. If you've taken our advice and selected a beach with lifeguards, signal them for assistance by waving an arm, but concentrate on staying afloat. If you can't swim to the side for some reason, tread water and let the rip current carry you out. This is a more scary option because you are pulled further from shore, but the rip current normally dissipates outside the breaking surf, then you can swim in. Another key: try not to panic. If you are a decent swimmer, you can tread water for a long time. Remember that.
Reid in Boston asks: Can rip currents actually pull a person downward, under the water, or just out to sea?
Chris Brewster: Reid, rip currents pull people offshore, not underwater; but if you are pulled offshore and can't get back in, you may, of course, submerge.
H. J. in Florida writes: As someone that lives near the beach in Okaloosa County, FL. (next to the Walton County where the news story was located) I must take exception to the point that the beaches are dangerous just because there are no lifeguards. There is a widely used flag system (state standard) that indicates the danger status of the beach. There are signs all over the beach advising tourists of the meaning of the flags. All of the hotels, motels, condos, and other rental properties hand out information about the dangers, what the flags mean and what to do if you are caught in a rip current … I have observed many times when two red flags were flying (beach closed to swimming due to very dangerous conditions) and the swimmers would not even comply with the directions of local law enforcement officers. I cannot understand people that continue to ignore warnings and them cry when they get into trouble. All the lifeguards in the world cannot cure stupidity.
Chris Brewster: H.J. you voice an opinion I've heard occasionally that the people who are caught in rip currents, despite the presence of flags and signs, have only themselves to blame. In most cases, I don't agree. Sure, there are the occasional daredevils who are going to take very high risks, but most of the drowning deaths in your area (and others), with which I am familiar, involve prudent and responsible people who just didn't understand a danger present at all surf beaches or underestimated it.