East Central Florida Rip Current Fact Sheet

  • Rip currents, commonly called rips, or run outs, and erroneously called rip tides and undertows, affect most of the surf areas along Florida's Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
  • Rip currents, on average, kill more people in Florida than hurricanes, tornadoes, and lightning combined.
  • Rip currents can occur at any time of the year, but the majority of deaths in east central Florida occur from April through October when the combination of a large number of bathers and favorable meteorological/oceanographic conditions coincide.
  • Rip currents are most common when long period ocean swells break in the surf zone and pile up greater amounts of water than normal on the beaches.
  • Most victims are those unfamiliar with surf dangers--tourists and Floridians that live inland.  However, local residents are occasionally victims too.
  • A rip current is a strong current of water usually flowing from inside the sand bar into deeper water.
  • Rip currents are normally only about 10 to 30 yards wide, so the best escape is to wade or swim sideways across the current, parallel to the beach.
  • The rip current extends on average from 50 to 200 yards offshore, and thus another means of escape for a strong swimmer is to float with the current out beyond the breakers where the rip current will weaken, then swim shoreward at an angle away from it.
  • Most deaths associated with rip currents occur when people panic and try to swim directly toward shore against the current, become totally exhausted and drown.
  • The rip current does not drag a person underwater but moves them at speeds of up to five miles per hour into deeper water. Even the strongest swimmer cannot swim directly against it and even persons standing on the ocean bottom are sometimes powerless to walk against it.
  • Sometimes, would-be rescuers also get caught in the rip current and drown.
  • The best safety action is to avoid getting caught in the rip current.
  • At guarded beaches, beach patrol or lifeguard personnel can recognize certain characteristics, such as a brown-colored plume, foam or a seaweed streak extending seaward from the breakers.  So, always swim near a lifeguard!
  • Obey posted warning signs, flags or other displays and heed the advice of the beach patrol.
  • Residents should advise visitors unfamiliar with ocean hazards about rip current dangers.
  • National Weather Service Rip Current Web Site

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