Rip Current Safety

About Rip Currents
Beachgoers must be aware of the potential for dangerous rip currents. Rip currents are powerful, channeled currents of water flowing away from shore. Rip currents can occur at any beach with breaking waves. The United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) estimates that the annual number of deaths due to rip currents on our nation's beaches exceeds 100 deaths. Lifeguards protecting the ocean beaches of the U.S. rescue 60,000 swimmers annually, and rip currents account for over 80% of these rescues.

Color-coded Signal Flags
The National Weather Service issues a Surf Zone Forecast that includes the rip current risk for area beaches. The Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue Squad flies colored signal flags from each lifeguard stand indicating the water conditions observed in the area.
Flag Color
Hazard Type
Description of Conditions
Green Flag Low Hazard
Conditions are calm. Normal care and caution should be exercised.
Yellow Flag Medium Hazard Moderate surf and/or currents are present. Weak swimmers are discouraged from entering the water. For others, enhanced care and caution should be exercised.
Red Flag High Hazard Rough conditions such as strong surf and/or currents are present. All swimmers are discouraged from entering the water. Those entering the water should take great care. Wind and/or wave conditions are expected to support the development of very strong rip currents. This category implies that water conditions are life threatening to all people who enter the surf. There may be a high number of rescues on red flag days.
Double Red Flag
Closed Beach
Water is closed to public use.
Quartered Black and White Flag
N/A These flags will be used in pairs to indicate the boundaries of a designated area where surfboards are prohibited.
Exercise Caution
Regardless of the color of the signal flags displayed, hazards may be present in the ocean at any time. Rip currents can form suddenly and other dangerous conditions could exist. Anyone entering the water must understand their personal abilities and limitations, and they must constantly assess the existing conditions. Underestimating the potential hazards associated with the ocean can be risky. If in doubt, don't go out. If you have any questions, consult with a lifeguard.

One of the most effective precautions that beachgoers can take is swim at a beach protected by lifeguards. Statistics show that the chance of drowning at a beach protected by USLA affiliated lifeguards is 1 in 18 million. The Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue Squad is a USLA certified agency. Please discuss any questions concerning water safety or surf conditions with an Ocean Rescue lifeguard.

For detailed information on identifying rip currents, escaping rip currents and helping others caught in rip currents, please visit the National Weather Service's Rip Current Awareness information page.