Far out in the ocean, strong winds blow on the surface of the water creating ocean swells. These swells travel great distances until they strike the shallow coastline and become powerful breaking waves. Big waves frequently wash unwary visitors off rocks along our rugged coastline. Please, respect the power of the ocean and keep a safe distance from it.
- Lateral Current
Since most waves break at an angle to the shoreline, they push water sideways, forming a current that moves parallel to the beach. This is called a lateral current. (AKA: side or longshore current). Generally, the larger the surf is, the stronger the lateral current will be. Lateral currents can push swimmers or divers downcoast into rocks and other dangerous obstacles. When lateral currents meet sandbars, large rocks, channels, or fixed obstacles like piers or jetties, the flow of water is diverted seaward, forming a rip current.
- Rip Current
A rip current is a swift current of water which flows from shore out to sea. It is caused by an excess of water accumulating inside the surfline from the incoming wave action. Seeking its own natural level, the water flows back out to sea through the lowest point in the bottom. A strong current is created. A rip current can usually be identified by brownish, choppy water, which appears to be pulling out to sea. A rip current usually dissipates out beyond the surf zone, ending in a "mushroom shape." Rip currents are very dangerous and can pull people out to sea. If you get caught in a "rip", DON'T PANIC! Swim parallel to shore until you are out of the rip current, then swim safely into shore.
Rocks along the coastline are often covered with moss and algae and are very slippery. If the rocks are mossy or are wet from waves, that's a sure sign to exercise caution. Please, do not climb on coastal rocks and keep a safe distance from the sea.
- Other Water Safety Tips
- always closely supervise children and non-swimmers near the water
- never turn your back to the ocean
- be aware of contantly changing ocean conditions
- observe all water safety warning signs
- don't drink alcohol
- respect the power of the sea and BE CAREFUL!
This information was reprinted in part from the pamphlet "Water Safety Saves Lives: Ocean Dangers and Safety Tips." Created by the Monterey District State Park Lifeguards, Erik Landry and Eric Strum. Printed with funds from the Point Lobos Natural History Association in cooperation with the California Department of Parks and Recreation.