nts are powerful currents of water moving away from shore. They can sweep even the strongest swimmer away from shore. If at all possible, swim near a lifeguard.

Rip currents are the leading surf hazard for all beachgoers. The U.S. Lifesaving Association reports 80 percent of all surf rescues are related to rip currents.

On many beaches, rip currents are present every day. In most cases, rip current speeds are too slow to be a danger to most swimmers.

However, when wave conditions, shape of the offshore beach and tide elevation are just right, rip current speeds can reach speeds faster than Michael Phelps can swim.

On this page, find information about North Carolina Sea Grant’s rip current research using data-logging drifters along with a collection of rip current safety resources.

Here’s how to avoid and escape rip currents:

Studying rip currents:

Scientists from the UNC Coastal Studies Institute and Kill Devil Hills Ocean Rescue used flourescein dye to track rip currents within the surf zone. Video by John McCord of the Coastal Studies Institute, in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ocean Today.

Rip Current Products

Metal Sign

This rip current sign provides guidance on swimming safety. It advises swimmers caught in rip currents to 1) relax, because rip currents don’t pull you under; 2) not swim against the current; 3) swim out of the current, then to shore; 4) float or tread water if they can’t escape; 5) yell or wave for assistance if they need help.

Rip current signs provide guidance on swimming safety.

This metal sign provides tips on identifying, avoiding and escaping dangerous rip currents. Similar in size to ‘No Parking’ signs (12″ x18″), it has precut holes and identifies the National Weather Service’s online rip current forecasting program. For more information, contact Katie Mosher, kmosher@ncsu.edu.


This brochure includes illustrations and tips for identifying and escaping these natural hazards. NC Sea Grant has delivered brochures to beach communities. For more information, contact Katie Mosher, kmosher@ncsu.edu.


A 5″x7″ magnet contains tips on identifying, avoiding and escaping dangerous rip currents. For more information, contact Katie Mosher, kmosher@ncsu.edu.

National and State Partners

To learn more about the ongoing national Rip Currents: Know Your Options campaign and rip current safety, visit ripcurrents.noaa.gov and weather.gov/safety/ripcurrent-toolkit.

National Weather Service offices in North Carolina are key partners in working with state agencies and beach communities’ ocean rescue teams. For example, NWS Wilmington, NC has an outreach partnership with NC Department Health and Human Services to reach audiences of people who are deaf and hard-of hearing. Learn more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2D9lPkbvFs

NC Sea Grant Rip Current Research

News Releases

May 28, 2021: Rip Currents: Know Your Options
North Carolina’s beach communities, offices of the National Weather Service, North Carolina Sea Grant, state and federal parks, and other organizations joined forces again to help keep visitors safe.

May 13, 2020: Rip Current Safety Focus in 2020
Many aspects of visits to the North Carolina coast may be different in 2020, but one constant will remain: Partners up and down the shore are focused on rip current safety.

July 3, 2019: Rip Currents: Know Your Options
In this holiday week, many people will visit North Carolina’s coast for days of surf and sand. Beach-goers always should keep rip current safety in mind. Check out these tips.

Coastwatch Magazine

A drifter about to be deployed on Carolina Beach.

A drifter about to be deployed on Carolina Beach. Photo by Rebecca Nagy.

Coastwatch Currents

North Carolina Sea Grant’s rip current research has been highlighted in our blog, Coastwatch Currents.

Rip Currents in the News

Adults and children standing on beach in front of rip current.

Rip currents are strong currents moving away from shore. Photo by Dave Elder.

Rip Current Partners

Partners for North Carolina Sea Grant research include the UNCW Center for Marine Science; NWS Wilmington Forecast Office; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; ocean rescue programs in Carolina Beach; Wrightsville Beach, Kill Devil Hills and Kitty Hawk; UNCW Surf Club; Wrightsville Beach Longboard Association; Tony Silvagni Surf School in Carolina Beach; CB Surf Shop in Carolina Beach and the University of New South Wales.