Behind the Scenes with Jen Carfagno: Rip Currents

I consider myself a bit of a beach bum! But even though I am in love with the soft air and salt water, I have a healthy respect for the power of the sea. The mysterious “rip current” (which some refer to as undertow) has been especially a concern now that I have kids. Would they know what to do if they got caught up in one?

I did an informal poll to see what made people nervous about the beach. It was close, but rip currents beat out sharks, sunburn, and jellyfish.

On Wednesday, The Weather Channel is releasing a new video all about the risks of rip currents and how to stay safe from them. The results of the poll make this project even more impactful. This segment can make a real difference and teach life-saving lessons. Rip currents are often misunderstood, which is something I delve into in the segment. Most importantly, I learned that you can’t out-swim a rip current, but you can swim out of one.

Lifeguards rescue tens of thousands of swimmers every year due to rip currents. With the help of the Pensacola Beach Lifeguards and Escambia County Fire Rescue, my team and I went in search of rip currents and staged several rescue scenarios to help beachgoers stay safe.

Rip currents form on yellow flag days, which worked out well since the day we recorded the segment was a yellow flag day. 

Rip currents are more powerful and prevalent when the waves are bigger and the onshore wind is stronger. However, swimmers often are not looking out for them. It’s important to always stay aware of changing conditions in the water.  

Rip currents are powerful, narrow channels of water moving away from the coast. They can move at speeds faster than 5 mph, which is faster than even an Olympian can swim. You can’t out-swim a rip, but you can swim out of one. The most important thing is not to panic or waste your energy by swimming against the rip current. I learned the value in the power of just floating. That will give you time to catch your breath so you can swim parallel to the shore and get out of the rip current. Sometimes the rip current will end in a curl pattern and then guide you around into the waves breaking on shore.

The most surprising thing I learned was that rip currents will pull you out, but they do not pull you under. You can survive a rip if you don’t panic, just float, and call or wave for help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

If you see someone else caught in a rip current, call for a lifeguard or 911 immediately. Never attempt to rescue someone from a rip current yourself.

Check out more behind the scenes pictures from the video shoot, and watch the premiere of the video on Wednesday, May 22 on AMHQ!


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One Comment


  1. Great story Jen! Had a brother get caught in a rip current once. Mom was like “ look at that idiot way out there. And now the lifeguards have to go pull him out!” Mood changed when she realized she was one kid short!