Don’t go in if you can’t swim.
Seems like common sense but every year, at thousands of beaches, people who can’t swim venture too far out and put themselves in an emergency situation. If you can’t swim don’t go out past where the water is waist deep. Heed this especially when the surf is strong. A random wave can sweep you off of your feet quite easily. If the waves are powerful you may find yourself in a precarious situation.
Be conscious of conditions.
If the ocean looks angry, even if you can swim, be very careful. Trust me, the ocean will teach you a lesson if you are cavalier with her. If the waves are head high or so, use extreme caution.
Caught in a rip current
A rip current is nothing more than the water pushed toward the beach by waves breaking going back out to sea. Typically if one has waves breaking to the left and to the right with a seemingly calm area in between, this seemingly calm area is a rip current. The water here is deeper than where the waves are breaking.
A rip is similar to a river in the ocean. It’s just water flowing from high to low. In fact once the rip flows past the breakers and into deeper water the current will dissipate. It’s not going to whisk you away to Bermuda.
But many people who find themselves caught in rip currents don’t realize this. They panic and try to swim against the flow of the current and back to the beach. This is a fight you are unlikely to win. If you swim right back to the beach against the current you’ll only wear yourself out.
Instead, swim parallel to the shore toward where the waves are breaking. This may seem counterintuitive to swim toward the maelstrom of the surf. But remember that the waves breaking are moving back toward the beach. If you stay calm and continue to swim parallel to the beach, eventually you will find the water flowing back toward shore and you will be deposited on the beach.
The ocean is a wonderful place to spend time. Many of the best memories I have happened at the beach. But the ocean must always be respected. The ocean is not like a pool or lake. Be smart and swim where there is a lifeguard. Even if there is a guard don’t count on him/her to save you from poor judgement. Be careful.