Frequent Beach-Goers Aware of Rip Currents
Along with the Parks and Recreation Department of the City of Duluth, Minnesota Sea Grant has been working on educating beach users about rip currents by distributing brochures and public service announcements, writing articles, giving talks, and other activities including placing signs at the popular beach on Minnesota Point (known locally as Park Point). Rip currents are narrow, fast-moving channels of water that sweep out from shore. They form in Lake Superior when winds pile water toward the shore, and can cost unsuspecting swimmers their lives if they try to fight the currents and become exhausted.
To help assess rip current awareness among beach-goers, our student intern, Kelsey Paxson, walked the beach and conducted a survey during the summer of 2006.
He reached 195 people and found that:
- Frequent beach users seem to know about rip currents (Nearly 80 percent had heard about rip currents and could describe how to escape them.)
- Infrequent beach users, such as visitors to the area, are more naive about rip currents (36 percent had heard about rip currents, and 31 percent could explain how to escape from one).
- Few people (about 37 percent of frequent users) knew what a rip current looks like from shore.
- People are learning about rip currents mainly through television (45 percent) and through family and friends (38 percent). Only 5 percent of beach users who knew about rip currents and remembered where the information came from reported seeing rip current signs on the beach. Nobody reported reading the rip currents brochure, and only one person reported hearing about rip currents on the radio.
Rip currents form when water piles up between the breaking waves and the beach. In returning to sea, it forms a narrow jet of water that moves swiftly offshore.
That 66 percent of all surveyed beach users knew about rip currents suggests that many people are hearing the messages. It also underscores the need to continue rip current education, especially for visitors and infrequent beach users.
Be sure to tell your friends and family to watch the water for signs of rip currents, especially on windy days. Signs include:
- a channel of churning, choppy water
- an area of notable difference in water color
- a line of foam or debris moving steadily offshore
- a break in the incoming wave pattern
Rip currents are no reason to avoid Lake Superior beaches, but they're a good reason to swim smart! Escaping rip currents is possible — DON'T FIGHT THE CURRENT … SWIM SIDEWAYS TO IT. Once you swim out of the moving current, swim back to shore.
By Jesse Schomberg