Beautiful beaches can pose risks

Published 4:14 pm Tuesday, June 11, 2013

For many Butler County residents, summer often means fun in the sun on their favorite beach.

Panama City Beach, Destin, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are all just a short drive away and can be exciting vacation spots for families looking to make lasting memories.

The Gulf Coast has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, but we shouldn’t let their white sands and emerald waters lull us into a state of complacency when it comes to safety.

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While beautiful, a day at the beach does pose certain risks.

We were tragically reminded of that just this week when four men drowned while swimming off Fort Morgan Peninsula near Gulf Shores.

The four men, from Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky and Louisiana, all got caught in a strong rip current that ultimately claimed their lives.

A rip current occurs when waves traveling from deep to shallow water breaks near the shoreline. When the waves break strongly in one area, and weaker in others, it can cause a circulation under the water that can move as fast as eight feet per second.

Rip currents have been described as silent killers due to the fact that on the surface waters may seem calm, but under the surface these currents may be swirling.

While rip currents are not normally easy to identify for the average beachgoer, there are a couple of things swimmers can keep their eye out for before heading into the ocean.

An area where the color of the water is noticeably different could be an indication of a rip current. A line of foam, seaweed or debris moving steadily out to sea or a break in the incoming wave pattern are also indicators of a possible rip current.

If you do find yourself caught in a rip current here are a few tips for escaping it and making it back to shore safely.

First, remain calm to conserve energy and allow yourself to think clearly.

Don’t try to fight the current. Instead, swim out of the current in a direction parallel to the shoreline rather than trying to swim straight back to shore. Once you are out of the current, swim towards the shore.

If you can’t swim out of the current, float or tread water until you are out of the current.

If you are unable to escape the current on your own, try to draw attention to yourself by facing the shore and waving your arms and yelling for help.

We hope you’ll keep those tips in mind the next time you visit the beach, so your trip to the coast will be memorable for all the right reasons.