What you need to know: How to handle rip currents at Jacksonville-area beaches

Florida leads country in rip current deaths

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — When it comes to deaths due to rip currents, Florida leads the country.

Last year, Florida had 27 people die from rip currents in the state according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Jaki Hicks is an avid beachgoer but living in Florida she’s also experienced what it’s like being stuck in a rip current.

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“You can’t touch the ground, and you can’t swim to shore comfortably and you start to freak out, and that’s the worst-case scenario,” said Hicks.

The United States Lifesaving Association estimates more than 100 people per year die from rip currents.

It also says rip currents account for nearly 80% of rescues by beach lifeguards.

Action News Jax told you Wednesday about the tragic death of a 22-year-old Iowa man who drowned near Crescent Beach while he was on his honeymoon.

According to deputies, Dalton Cottrell found himself in a rip current, started to panic and was pulled under.

A Tennessee father lost his life last month after he jumped in to save his three daughters from the rough waters near Panama City.

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In Daytona Beach, a 19-year-old from Louisiana died a few days after she was pulled underwater by a powerful rip current.

Experts say if you’re caught in a rip current and you feel yourself drifting away from shore don’t panic.

Instead let yourself float out into an area where the rip current weakens.

They also say make sure you’re in an area where there’s a lifeguard.

That way, if you’re stuck in a rip current you can signal for help.

“The best and easiest way for us to get out of that is to swim to the right or the left until you’re out of that current and you can make you way back,” said Jeremy Robshaw, with St. Johns County Fire Rescue.

It’s a rule that Hicks says she follows every time she finds herself in that situation.

"Stay clear, think of what you have to do, go at an angle, find the waves coming in. Don't go at a nice clear straight path or you're going to get sucked back out," said Hicks. 
 
St. Johns County Fire Rescue also recommends checking the current conditions at the beach to make sure it's safe enough to swim.

They agency says it’s also not a bad idea to take a flotation device to the beach.

Tthat way if someone is caught in a rip current you can throw them something that floats while you go and get help.

MORE INFORMATION ON RIP CURRENTS: 
    • NWS says rip currents form at breaks in sandbars, and also near structures, such as jetties and piers as well as cliffs that jut into the water.
    • A channel of churning, choppy water.
    • A color change in a particular area.
    • A line of seaweed, foam or debris moving gradually toward the sea.
    • A break in the incoming wave pattern.
    • Remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
    • Never fight or swim against the current.
    • If possible, swim out of the current, then to shore.
    • If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water.
    • When out of the current, swim toward shore.
  • The NWS says you should not try to rescue someone from a rip current, but to get a lifeguard and call 911 immediately.
  • Click here to see the different Rip Current Risk levels.
    • The United States Livesaving Association says nearly 80% of beach rescues by lifeguards are due to rip currents.
  • There have been new campaigns prompting swimmers to not even try to swim out of the current, but to simply float to survive a rip current.
  • Rip currents are different than riptides, according to NWS.