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Swimmers beware: Learn about rip currents in Ocracoke waters

This area of the water is off the airport ramp, between the lifeguard stand and the ramp entrance. The circled area in this photo taken June 15 shows waves breaking on the sandbar but not in the dark area where there is a break in the sandbar. A lateral current is moving to the right in the area at the bottom of the circle, forcing water back out through the sandbar break. This is a rip current. Photo: C. Leinbach

Editor’s note: For tips about spotting good or dangerous water, see story here 

National Park Service is working on increased rip current education on Ocracoke in July.

Last year was an unusually high season for rip currents and fatalities along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, which included two drownings on Ocracoke.  Already this year, a teen-age Thailand boy lost his life in a rip current off the Frisco beach.  See story here.  Sand bars last year and this are much closer to shore than they usually are. This creates strong lateral currents.  Breaks in the sandbars through which water can rush back out create the conditions for rip currents that can catch swimmers unaware.

This year, Avery Graves, head lifeguard on Ocracoke, reports that while the sandbars are still out there, swimming conditions since Memorial Day opening weekend  have been good so far.

“We’re keeping an eye on it,” she said.

In February, several islanders met with Cape Hatteras National Seashore staffers Boone Vandzura, head ranger, and Stacey Sigler, acting chief of Resource Management and Science, to discuss ideas for better communication about the danger of rip currents along the island surf.

“While we already provide many targeted public education programs, we will enhance efforts with social media, website and park newspaper messaging, educational signage at beach accesses across the Seashore, at ORV offices, in campgrounds and at highway entrances to the Seashore,” Sigler said in a recent email. “This is a multi-phase process, we are still exploring opportunities for 2018 and beyond.”

Specifically, the park service will share the NOAA Rip Current Forecast link for the Outer Banks (forecast is updated daily) and a variety of other NOAA messages including educational videos, posters and signs (bilingual). 

In addition, the park service will do the following:

  • Share rip current messages as either alerts or crawls in a variety of electronic media.
  • Provide opportunities TBD for visitors to attend rip current demonstrations on the beach via our contract lifeguards.
  • Continue hold at least one inter-agency meeting per year to share information on improving safety.