Rip Currents and a guide on how to survive them

You are headed to the beach and excited to put your toes in the sand and swim in the ocean. We are happy you are here and want you to stay safe. Please understand and know the water conditions before you go in. Be aware that public beaches in Georgetown County do not have lifeguards, however, Huntington Beach State Park does have stationed lifeguards. In Horry County, lifeguards provided by Lack’s Beach Service are stationed on approximately 14 miles of beaches along the Grand Strand with the peak season from May 15, through September 15. 

  • These areas include just south of North Myrtle Beach town limits to the Dunes Club in Myrtle Beach (includes Shore Drive but excludes the town of Briarcliff Acres.)
  • South of Springmaid Pier to Surfside Beach town limits, includes Myrtle Beach State Park and the campgrounds.
  • South of Surfside Beach town limits through Garden City Beach to the Georgetown county line.
What are rip currents and what do the flags mean?

Rip currents are powerful channels of water flowing quickly away from shore. Check with lifeguards and beach patrol, before you get in the water. Pay attention to posted flags and signs before entering the water.

  • A yellow flag means lifeguards are on duty and people should swim with caution. This is the flag that is up when ocean conditions are typical.
  • A blue flag means dangerous marine life, such as jellyfish, sharks, fish or stingrays, have been spotted in the area.
  • A red flag means “No Swimming” and get out of the water, due to animal sightings or rip currents. The red flag will stay up until the lifeguard can re-evaluate the situation. 
What causes rip currents? 

Riptides usually occur after a storm but can occur on sunny days if weather conditions are right. If you find yourself caught in a rip current, stay calm, do not panic.
Your first thought is to try to swim against the current, back to shallow water. In most cases, even if you’re a strong swimmer, this will only wear you out. The current is too strong to take head-on.

Instead, swim sideways, parallel to the beach (see illustration above) and at an angle. This should get you out of the narrow outward current so you can swim back in with the waves helping you along. If it’s too hard to swim sideways while you’re being dragged through the water, wait for the current to carry you out. The water will be much calmer there, and you can get clear of the rip current before heading back in. This can take minutes, again stay calm.

People drown when they thrash in the water or use all their energy swimming, against the current.

How do you survive a rip current?

To survive a rip current or any crisis in the water, you must keep calm, and you must conserve energy. If you don’t think you can swim all the way back to the beach, get past the rip current and tread water or try to float. Call for help, signal to people on the beach and, if all else fails, wait for the waves to carry you in.

How do you help someone caught in a rip current? 

If you’re on the beach and see somebody caught in a rip current, call for help from a lifeguard or the police. Don’t immediately dive in and swim out to the person. It’s too risky to swim out there yourself unless you have a raft, boogie board or life preserver with you. 

The most effective way to fight rip currents is to follow basic swimming safety rules: do not go in the ocean alone, and if you are not a strong swimmer, stick to the shallows (although even shallow waters can be dangerous). Ideally, you should only swim in areas where there is a lifeguard. 

Enjoy your vacation and stay safe in the water!

– Mary Black, Garden City Realty Vacation Specialist

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