Odds are, a rip current was at work.
And, if such a current is strong enough and you don't know how to react, you could drown.
On The Early Show Tuesday, Tom Gill of the United States Lifesaving Association offered advice on what to do if a rip current gets hold of you:
Gill was talking about rip currents, not rip tides.
A rip current is a narrow channel of water moving away from the shore, most often caused by breaks in sandbars or permanent objects in the water such as jetties or piers.
A rip tide occurs between two large bodies of water similar to the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay at tide changes, not areas likely to affect a typical swimmer.
Most localities don't allow people to swim near jetties or piers, so the danger they pose isn't as great.
Eighty percent of rescues performed by USLA certified agencies are the result of rip currents, meaning the majority of deaths are caused by rip currents, as well.
A rip current often presents itself as dark, murky, debris-filled channel of water, or any channel of water that's not like the rest of the water around it. It's almost impossible to see one while in the water, and hard to spot from the sand. Rip currents are more easily viewed from the air, offering lifeguards who sit in higher chairs a better look at rip currents.
Most beaches use some type of flag system to warn of dangerous conditions. However anyone swimming on a guarded beach should ask the lifeguard about the conditions when they arrive.
If caught in a rip current, the first rule is DO NOT PANIC. A rip current does NOT pull someone under; rather, people are pulled out into deeper waters, and their lack of swimming ability causes them to go under. Swimmers should allow the current to carry them backwards as they start to swim parallel to the shore to escape the grip of the current, then return to shore when they no longer feel the pull of the rip current. The other option is to wave and call for help from the lifeguard if he or she hasn't already noticed your predicament.
FOR MUCH MORE FROM THE USLA ON RIP CURRENTS AND SURVIVING IF YOU GET CAUGHT IN ONE, click here.