Rip Currents on 30A

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30A is known for its stunning award-winning crystalline white shoreline and dazzling jewel-toned waters of the glowing Gulf. Generations of guests have enjoyed idyllic family vacations and beach reunions with friends in this precious piece of paradise. However, you need to know about a natural phenomenon that “can be” dangerous if you are uninformed about what to do, which is the occasional occurrence of Rip Currents.

The first thing you should know about Rip Currents is that they have also been given a misnomer called “Undertows.” This makes people think that when they occur, the water will suck them down deep. This is absolutely NOT true and very unfortunate because it causes needless panic when some people get caught in this kind of current, which can result in drowning.

Rip Currents are caused by a break in an underwater sandbar that is serving as a wall between waves crashing offshore and an inlet that parallels the beach. You may have enjoyed walking on raised sandbars that have sandwiched themselves between these beachside inlets and open water. They are created by waves that spilled over to create them as the tide comes in. If you have ever dug a little trench for fun with the kids on one of these raised sandbars that separate the two bodies of water, you can see an above-ground version of what a Rip Current does as the water flows out like a stream through the break.  

Sometimes waves cause breaks in underwater sandbars that parallel the beach, which have the same effect. They can sometimes be spotted from the beach. These Rip Current “rivers” pull sand and shells out from the shallow beachside into the Gulf, which appears darker than the clear waters on each side. They can also affect wave action creating a smooth surface between two sides of the surf. There is a local motto that says, “If in doubt, don’t go out.” If you are not a good swimmer, you should never get into the water deeper than your waist. Since these conditions are hard to see at the beach level, you must pay attention to posted cautions.

The beaches along 30A in South Walton and Destin use a flag system to keep the public aware of any safety concerns. They are flying on masts at beach access points. A Green Flag means conditions are a Low Hazard with calm conditions. A Yellow Flag means there is a Medium Hazard with moderate surf conditions that may cause Rip Currents. A Red Flag reports a High Hazard with high surf and strong currents easily able to cause Rip Currents. When a Double Red Flag is flying conditions are Extremely Dangerous even for strong swimmers with very high surf, and Gulf entry is forbidden. Check out these flags whenever you arrive at the beach because conditions can change. Please be aware that rip currents can often happen even on a bright sunny day with calm breezes and normal looking surf.

Another way to see in advance if you need to be on the alert for Rip Currents are the Watches reported by the National Weather Service at forecast.weather.gov, on The Weather Channel, most local weather stations, on the visitsouthwalton.com website and by texting FLAG at 31279.

Rip Currents are NOT deadly by themselves. They do not have an “undertow” to take you down. The rip current may come on suddenly which can startle you, but it’s just a stream that flows out only about a football field’s length of 100 yards from the shore at most. They are only about forty feet wide so you can easily swim to one side or the other to get out of the flowing current at any time. After you are out of the flow, the current stops. Never swim directly against the current because it is exhausting and impossible to do for even the strongest Olympic swimmer.  Some people who get caught in a rip current are good swimmers and actually enjoy the ride. They stay afloat until the current slows down or comes to an end a fairly short distance from shore, and then they swim back.  

Each year, lifeguards save over 1,000,000 lives on America’s beaches, and South Walton has them posted during the summer season at many beaches along 30A. This is part of why drownings from rip currents only average about 100 per year in the United States. The other main reason is that people stay safe taking precautions, do not panic if it happens to them and know what to do if it does. Share this information so that you and your loved ones are among them!

Enjoy taking a look at our wonderful user-friendly website for more information about our area as well as the many distinctive 30A vacation rental properties that are available for a fun time at the beach.