What to know about ‘dangerous’ rip tides from Hurricane Franklin impacting New England beaches

Weather

The risk of rip tides continues until Thursday.

The National Weather Service (NWS) is warning swimmers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island to be careful the next few days, as dangerous rip tides caused by Hurricane Franklin will begin to hit New England.

The risk of rip tides begins Tuesday evening and continues through Thursday, the service said. During this time, the surf is expected to reach as high as seven feet along some parts of the coastline.

Where the rip tides will be strongest

The Rhode Island coast, Bristol County’s coastline, and the southern coastline of the islands have the highest risk of rip tides, according to the service. There, the surf is expected to be four to seven feet high.

A high rip tide risk means that conditions are dangerous and potentially life-threatening for anyone entering the surf, the service said.

The east coast of Nantucket and the Cape are facing a moderate risk of rip tides, according to the service. There, the surf is expected to be three to seven feet high.

Anyone planning to enter the surf in these areas should check with local beach patrols before swimming, the service said. If you choose to swim, always swim within sight of a lifeguard, and never swim alone or at night.

The North and South Shores are at low risk of rip tides, though the service warns that swimmers in these areas should always be wary, as rip tides can happen anywhere, especially close to jetties. The surf in these areas is expected to be around two feet high.

Though Hurricane Franklin isn’t heading towards the coast, that won’t stop it from affecting the tides. NWS Boston Meteorologist Kevin Cadima said small boats could also be affected by the high surf.

“Even though [the hurricane] is going out to sea, it was traveling towards New England, and all that wave energy is being propagated towards the coastline,” he said. “…Those long period swells contribute to the rip currents and the high surf.”

Why rip tides are so dangerous

Rip tides are powerful water currents flowing away from the shore that often cause drownings due to their strength, according to the service. They can move as fast as eight feet per second.

“Rip currents are often referred to as drowning machines by lifeguards and are the leading cause of rescues for people in the surf. They are particularly dangerous for weak or non-swimmers, but a strong rip current is a hazard for even experienced swimmers,” the service wrote on its website.

The U.S. Lifesaving Association estimates that over 100 people drown in rip tides each year, and rip tide rescues account for over 80% of rescues by lifeguards, the service said.

Earlier this month, a Brockton man died days after being rescued from a rip tide at Hampton Beach in New Hampshire. The rescue required a “human chain” to reach 27-year-old Edmilson Gomes and his coworkers, but he was unresponsive by the time they pulled him from the water.

The bottom line? If in doubt, don’t go out.

What to do if you get caught in a rip current

Firstly, the service says, stay calm to conserve your energy and think clearly. Don’t fight against the current. It is like a treadmill that can’t be turned off, and you need to step to the side of it.

Secondly, swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline, the service says. When out of the current, swim at an angle. You should be going away from the current and towards the shore.

If you find yourself unable to swim out of the current, the service says, float or tread water as calmly as possible. When you find yourself out of the current, swim towards the shore.

If you still find yourself unable to reach the shore, draw attention to yourself by yelling and waving your arms, the service says.

If you see someone else caught in a rip current, do not swim out to help them unless you’re a lifeguard, the service says. Get help from a lifeguard, or if there aren’t any nearby, call 911.

There are two ways you can help someone caught in a rip current from the shore, the service says. Firstly, you can throw them something that floats, such as a lifejacket, rescue tube, or cooler. Secondly, you can yell instructions to them on how to leave the rip current.

“Remember, many people drown while trying to save someone else from a rip current,” the service wrote on its website.

NWS tips for rip tide safety:

  • Swim at a lifeguard-protected beach
  • Never swim alone
  • Don’t swim at night when it’s hard to see swimmers and currents
  • Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards
  • Stay at least 100 feet away from piers and jetties
  • Pay attention to children, the elderly, and other weak swimmers


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