Longshore Current Fact Sheet

  1. A longshore current, sometimes called a cross current, lateral current or Littoral current, flows parallel to the coastline.
  2. Everyone who has been in the water at the beach has experienced one.  Let's say you go to the beach, put your blanket/chair at point "x" and enter the water there.  Most always within 5 minutes you will be either north or south of point "x".  This was caused by the longshore movement of water.
  3. A longshore current is simply caused by swells or wind waves that are not coming directly onshore.  It is unusual not to have at least a slight longshore current.
  4. Though a longshore current is not as strong as a rip current, it can be very dangerous.  A person standing on a sandbar can be pushed into deeper water.  If you are not a good swimmer, you could drown as a result.  Drownings have occurred due to the longshore current.
  5. Another danger of the longshore current is that you could be pushed along the coast and right into a rip current!   This can occur when swells are impacting the area but local winds are moving water laterally along the beach.
  6. Check with the Beach Patrol about ocean hazards when arriving at the beach.
  7. Always swim near a lifeguard.
  8. Never try to swim directly against currents that occur at the beaches.
  9. If you find yourself moving northward or southward along the coast into deep water, remain calm and do not swim directly back against the current.  Signal for help and try to swim at an angle to the current and back to shore.
  10. Avoid swimming near piers and jetties where seaward flowing rip currents could be strong.

page created 4/11/03  RL

USA.gov is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.