ATLANTIC BEACH, CARTERET COUNTY -

The waves of the ocean can look beautiful and peaceful, but they can also be dangerous.

"I'm guessing they're six to ten feet high.  They're powerful.  They can take you right off your feet," said Amos Stoltzfus. 

The red flags are up at Atlantic Beach which means there's a high risk for rip currents.

"Because of the surf and the conditions of the surrounding water, it can make the rip currents a little bit stronger," said Ben Ansel, a lifeguard at Atlantic Beach.

North Carolina's underwater topography is prone to forming sand bars.  Low spots or breaks in the sand bars cause rip currents.  If you are caught in a rip current, do not try to swim directly back to shore.  Instead, swim parallel to the coastline until you're out of the rip current.  Then, swim back to the beach.

The majority of the distress calls made to the Atlantic Beach Fire Department are because people get caught, they panic and tire out quickly.

"They're trying to keep their head above water, and at that point they may not be able to signal for help or scream.  The next stage is distress that could lead to submersion then drowning," said Lt. Scott Bell.

Sometimes you can identify a rip current before getting into the ocean.  The water may be a different color, the waves break unevenly or you see debris being pulled out into the ocean.  Most importantly, if you are caught in a rip current, staying calm could save your life.

"You'll be able to know what you're doing, and then you're able to receive orders better.  So we can get business done and get out of there," said Ansel.

Staying calm and swimming parallel to shore will help you escape the grip of the rip.