As the weather gets hotter and more people hit the beach, New Jersey officials are warning swimmers about the dangers of rip currents 

Logan Mock-Bunting, Getty Images

Rip currents are strong, narrow currents moving away from the shore. They form as waves travel from deep to shallow water.

"When the water comes on the shore - then goes back, it is pulling anything in its way back toward the ocean," said Capt. Mike Veracierta with the Seaside Park Beach Patrol.

According to figures from the National Weather Service, there were no drownings at the Jersey Shore in 2013, but five people drowned in May and June of 2012.

Nationally, there were 64 rip current fatalities in 2013 and 13 so far in 2014.

While there is no specific time of day or month for rip currents, they are a lot more frequent when offshore storms create unusual swells in the surf.  Veracierta said rip currents also seem to occur more frequently in August.

What should swimmers do if they encounter a rip current?

Wildwood Beach Patrol Chief Steve Stocks said swimmers should swim parallel to the shore.  "If you fight the current, you become exhausted. Once you become exhausted, you begin to panic. And once you panic you can enter into the IDR, which is the instinctive drowning response.

The New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium also offers these tips to survive and avoid rip currents:

  • If caught in a rip current, remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
  • Don't fight the current. Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline.  When out of the current, swim toward the shore.
  • It you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water.  When out of the current, swim toward shore.
  • If you are still unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself: face the shore, wave your arms and yell for help.
  • If you see someone in trouble, get help from a lifeguard.  If a lifeguard is not available, call 9-1-1.

Rip Current Awareness Week, a nationally recognized ocean safety campaign aimed at educating the public on rip currents, runs from June 1 to 7.

How rip currents form (NOAA)