North Carolina Sea Grant

July 3, 2019 | Katelyn Vause

Above: A national team developed this updated rip current safety graphic. This and other materials are available online at  NOTE: the National Weather Service has issued cautions for moderate risks of rip currents today on many North Carolina beaches, with similar conditions expected to continue into the weekend.

Katie Mosher, 919-515-9069, (subject line: Rip currents products)

With Independence Day celebrations extending into a long weekend for many, North Carolina’s coast will have a surge of visitors. While these trips are fun, beach-goers always should keep safety in mind. Already this year several deaths in the state have been attributed to rip currents.

North Carolina Sea Grant’s rip current expert, Spencer Rogers offers key reminders to all who visit the beach:

To spot a rip current, look for:

How to Survive a Rip Current

Rogers suggests having a cell phone with you for emergencies. Text all in your group to ensure they have the street address or beach access point identified. “But your focus should be on loved ones who are with you, not on posting photos or videos from the beach,” he adds.

These — and other tips listed below — are part of an ongoing campaign by a task force that includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Lifesaving Association, and experts in National Weather Service forecast offices and Sea Grant programs around the nation.

Safety Mission

For Rogers, North Carolina Sea Grant’s coastal construction and erosion specialist, increasing awareness of rip currents in the surf zone has been a 40-year mission — one that includes research and partnerships at the local, state, national and international levels.

“This is a critical issue. There’s a never-ending flow of new beach visitors unfamiliar with rip currents,” he says.

Spencer Rogers

Rogers is a founding member of the national task force that recently released updated rip current safety materials, including a main graphic, as well as a sign and brochure with tips.

“The new edition is about the fifth generation of rip current signs and educational materials,” explains Rogers, North Carolina Sea Grant’s coastal construction and erosion specialist. His tally includes earlier versions from North Carolina Sea Grant, as well as the national products.

“It’s part of a continuing research effort to ensure they’re effective,” he adds. Rogers explains that rip current safety is part of an endless education process.

Signs are posted at beach access points and brochures are available from rental companies and welcome centers. “We can’t always be there before novice beach users jump in the water, but these messages can be there,” Rogers says.

While the older edition of the sign is still valid and useful — with hundreds in place along the N.C. coast — the updates “continue to improve and clarify the message,” Rogers explains.

Left to right: Spencer Rogers; Cobi Christiansen, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina Wilmington; and Rob Brander, a coastal geomorphologist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Mike Spencer, StarNews.

The new centerpiece graphic design came from a collaboration between the U.S. task force and Surf Life Saving Australia. Rogers also works with University of New South Wales coastal geomorphologist Rob Brander on rip current research, paying particular attention to North Carolina’s coastline and barrier islands.

For example, Rogers used drifters with GPS to track rip current flow. “Our results inform the development of materials for the public, as well as for my talks to ocean rescue leaders.”

North Carolina Sea Grant is in the process of printing new signs and brochures. Communities, businesses and organizations interested in bulk orders should contact Katie Mosher at 919-515-9069. Or send an email to and use the subject line: Rip currents products.

“We are proud that our messages are based on science,” Mosher says. “If we save one life, it is worth all our efforts.”

More Tips

Rip currents are channeled currents of water flowing away from shore at surf beaches. They typically extend from near the shoreline, through the surf zone and past the line of breaking waves.

North Carolina Sea Grant, with NOAA and the U.S. Lifesaving Association, share the following reminders:

Rip Precautions

Before You Go

At the Beach

How to Help Someone Else

Additional Online Resources




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