FOLLY BEACH, S.C. (WCBD) – Beach season is here and it’s important to understand rip currents and how to spot them before taking a dip in the ocean this summer.

Rip currents are fast-moving channels of water flowing away from the shore. They form when waves break near the shoreline, piling up water between the breaking waves and the beach.

“One of the ways this water returns to the sea is to form a rip current, a narrow stream of moving water,” according to NWS forecasters.

Usually, the water moves at about 1-2 feet per second, but can be as fast as 8 feet per second.

National Weather Service graphic

Officials with the National Weather Service say signs that a rip current is present are subtle and can be difficult for the average beachgoer to identify.

You can look for differences in water color, water motion, and incoming wave shape or breaking point when compared to nearby areas.

Some clues to look for:

  • Channel of churning, choppy water
  • Area having a notable difference in water color
  • Line of foam, seaweed, or debris moving steadily seaward
  • Break in the incoming wave pattern

If you find yourself in a rip current, remember to stay calm and try not to fight the current. “Think like a treadmill you can’t turn off,” experts said. “You want to step to the side of it.”

Swim across the current in a direction following the shoreline. When you’re out of the current, swim and angle yourself away from the current and towards the shore.

If trouble persists, experts say you should attempt to float or calmly tread water. Rip current strength typically subsides offshore.

Before you leave for the beach, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration says you should check the latest forecast for local beach conditions. Often, they will issue rip current statements depending on the risk.