Dr. Beach's Water
Tracer is a method of detecting surface water currents, especially
life-threatening rip currents at surf beaches, has been developed. The
water tracer is biodegradable and non-toxic.
Photo: Water Tracers (Dye balls), which can
easily be thrown tens of feet, are orange in solid form.
Water currents are often difficult to
discern, especially dangerous rip currents at surf beaches. Coastal
scientists use water tracers by adding concentrated dye in powder or
liquid form to water and then wading into the ocean and pouring it into
the water (see video: Beach Rips: Dangerous Currents). A much more
convenient and safer way for beachgoers to use a water tracer is by
having the dye in the form of a ball that can be thrown from shore.
The YMCA kids at South Beach called them
“magic rocks” when Dr. Leatherman threw a fluorescent, orange-colored
dye ball into the water and it dissolved to form a beautiful green plume
of water. This really got their attention because the fluorescent dye
was so visual, and the brightly-colored plume immediately began moving
in the longshore current. Waves are apparent, but currents are largely
invisible. Many beachgoers do not even realize that there are currents
at oceanic beaches, much less dangerous ones. Great Lakes beaches are
also subject to rip currents, especially the southern end of Lake
Beachgoers presently have no direct means of
detecting rips and other dangerous currents. Red flags are used on many
U.S. beaches to warn the public of marine dangers, such as big waves,
rip currents, sharks, and other hazards. Signs are often posted at beach
entrances with idealized diagrams of a rip current, but rips take many
forms so that they are often not recognized by the general public. In
addition, rips are not always visible or readily apparent (even to
trained lifeguards) so that beachgoers enter the water with little to no
knowledge of the presence or strength of a life-threatening current.
Photo: The floating dye ball quickly
dissolves in marine waters, releasing a plume of dye that is shown
tracing the tidal current in Biscayne Bay, Florida.
Photo: Large dye ball plume traces the
longshore current at Miami Beach, Florida.
The dye ball is
neutrally buoyant in water so that it floats at the surface.
Rip currents are the most serious hazard that
threatens bather safety on most of the world’s surf beaches. It is
estimated that 100+ people drown each year on U.S. beaches and perhaps
thousands worldwide. Statistics from the US Lifesaving Association show
that approximately 80 percent of all lifeguard rescues (more than 50,000
yearly) at surf beaches are the result of rip currents. Put into
perspective, rip currents are responsible for more deaths than floods,
hurricanes or tornadoes on an annualized basis according to the National
Beach Safety Facts:
• Rip currents are the most dangerous aspect
of surf beaches; in the United States, more than 100 people drown
annually, and lifeguards rescue 10,000s of people each year that are
caught in these powerful, seaward-flowing currents.
• Rip currents are hard to detect and common
on many beaches; there can be many rips on a beach, and alongshore
currents can move you along the beach into a rip current.
• The seaward pull of the water is often felt
in knee-deep water. At waist depth, the current can make it difficult to
maintain your footing in even moderately strong rips.
• Many beachgoers are drowned on sunny days
when the waves are only 2-3 feet high.
• Rips are difficult to predict because these
currents can be produced both by strong onshore winds or an offshore
storm when there is no wind at the beach.
• Rip currents are most prevalent on Pacific
coast beaches, but many drownings occur along the Atlantic and Gulf
coasts. Florida has the highest number of rip drownings because it has
hundreds of miles of great beaches, sunny weather, and warm water.
• During the summer of 2010, 25 people
drowned in rips in the Great Lakes.
Understand the Dangers of Rip
• View the short video “Beach Rips: Killer
Currents” at www.ripcurrents.com or www.DrBeach.org before going into
• Consult the United States Lifeguard
Association web site (www.usla.org) for further information.
Rip Currents are Often
Invisible--Signs, if present, vary by location and may include:
• Change in water color from the surrounding
water—lighter color and murkier from bubbles and sediment or darker
because of an underwater channel where the rip flows.
• Gap in breaking waves where the rip is
forcing its way seaward through the surf zone.
• Agitated (choppy) water that extends beyond
the breaker zone.
• Floating objects moving steadily offshore.
• Rip currents are especially hard to detect
during times of strong onshore winds and confused sea conditions.
• This is not a check list. If you are not
sure, then don’t go into the water.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your
comments and rip photos