Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Two types of dangerous currents along Florida beaches can lead to tragic consequences

Clear skies, blue water and warm weather make for a good day at the beach this time of year. But swimmers need to keep an eye out for dangerous currents that can sweep them out to sea, tire them out and, ultimately, drown them. Rip currents are the most well-known of these potentially deadly streams. They drag swimmers out to sea, killing about 100 people each year in the United States. Swimmers in the Tampa Bay area are more likely to encounter longshore currents, which run parallel to the beach, but come with their own dangers. "These are just as dangerous when they hit a fixed object, such as a groin or jetty, and the current heads out to sea, dragging a swimmer with it," said Joe Lain, who headed Clearwater's Beach Safety Department for more than 20 years. Here are some ways to stay safe.

Know the water

High winds associated with cold fronts this time of year allow longshore currents to form along beaches.

"When you go to the beach, check the status board on the lifeguard tower, which will detail any potentially dangerous conditions," Lain said.

On Florida's Atlantic Coast, where east winds pile water up on the beach, this is prime time for rip currents.

"The water gets trapped inside the sandbar and looks for the lowest point to flow back out to sea," said Bob Maler, chief of Miami Dade's Ocean Rescue Department. "This current will flow just like a river. You can't swim against it."

Keep your cool

Most drownings occur when the victims panic, tire themselves fighting the current and cannot stay afloat.

While local beaches seldom experience the dangerous rip currents that plague the East Coast, strong tides at the mouths of passes can be just as dangerous.

If you are caught in a current, don't fight it. Keep your composure and swim parallel to shore until you feel the current slack. Then swim to the beach.

Most danger areas, such as Fort De Soto's Bunces Pass, have signs that warn against swimming.

Stay safe

Swim near a lifeguard. The chance of drowning at a beach that has no lifeguard is five times greater than the chance of drowning at a beach patrolled by certified lifeguards.

According to the United States Lifesaving Association, the chance of drowning at a beach protected by USLA-affiliated lifeguards is 1 in 18 million.

Never swim alone. Most drowning deaths involve solitary swimmers. Practice the buddy system.

Contrary to myth, rip currents don't suck people down into the water. And "rip tides'' and "undertow'' are just mistaken names for rip currents.

Two types of dangerous currents along Florida beaches can lead to tragic consequences 03/27/11 [Last modified: Monday, March 28, 2011 11:23am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Forecast: Rain, heat prevails for Tampa Bay through weekend as tropics gear up


    The summertime pattern of mid- to late-day showers and scorching temperatures will persist across Tampa Bay on Friday and throughout the weekend.

    Tampa Bay's 7 day forecast. [WTSP]
  2. Is Bucs kicker Nick Folk a significant upgrade over Roberto Aguayo?


    Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter made it clear.

    Bucs kicker Nick Folk is entering his 11th NFL season. He spent three seasons with the Cowboys and seven with the Jets. [LOREN ELLIOTT  |  Times]
  3. Florida education news: Student discipline, online learning, solar eclipse glasses and more


    STUDENT DISCIPLINE: Everyone wants their child to behave in school. But sometimes defining what that means causes dissention. That was the case this week at a Pasco County elementary school, which A Pasco County elementary school has adopted a new behavior model that encourages cooperation and responsibility. Some parents are upset that it also seems to support giving in to peer pressure.

  4. Pinellas wants to see impact of tourism bucks spent on big events

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– Pinellas County relies on more than just beaches to attract visitors. County government also spends millions to help sponsor big-name events to draw even more tourists.

    The Pinellas County Tourist Development Council awareded up to $250,000 to help sponsor the 2018 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  5. Zephyrhills begins residential lien forgiveness program

    Local Government

    ZEPHYRHILLS — A new program is under way to forgive liens on certain residential properties in the city to combat blight, encourage improvements to properties and spur home ownership.

    City Manager Steve Spina said after the council’s unanimous vote, the new lien forgiveness program is up and running.