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What's a Sleeper Wave? How to recognize and survive one.

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What's a Sleeper Wave? How to recognize and survive one.

What’s a Sleeper Wave?

A sleeper wave (aka a sneaker wave), is an unexpectedly large and powerful ocean wave that can appear without warning, even on an otherwise calm beach. Unlike regular waves that follow a predictable pattern, sleeper waves can surge much farther up the shore, catching beachgoers off guard. 


The Danger of Sleeper Waves

Surprise Factor: these waves can come out of nowhere, making them particularly dangerous. People relaxing on the beach or wading in shallow water might not see them coming. NEVER TURN YOUR BACK TO THE OCEAN.

Powerful Force: sleeper waves have a strong force that can knock you over and pull you into the ocean, leading to potentially dangerous situations like being injured by rocks and debris or drowning.

Unpredictability: it’s impossible to predict when or where a sleeper wave might hit, which adds to the risk.

How to Recognize and Stay Safe

Keep an Eye on the Water: even if the ocean seems calm, pay attention to the waves and stay alert for any sudden changes.

Stay Back: keep a safe distance from the water, especially in areas known for sleeper waves. Lifeguards will often drive a vehicle along the beach to indicate danger. DO NOT go beyond the tread lines toward the water.

Be Aware of Conditions: certain conditions, like a rapidly rising tide or storms far out at sea, can increase the likelihood of sleeper waves.

What to Do if Caught in a Sleeper Wave

Stay Calm: try to stay calm and avoid panicking.

Keep Your Balance: if you're standing, try to stay on your feet and move away from the churning water.

Help Others: if you're with others, make sure everyone is aware and help those who might be caught off guard. Rescue efforts should be made by lifeguards or very strong swimmers.


Sleeper waves are a natural phenomenon that can turn a day at the beach into a dangerous situation in an instant. Be aware and take precautions!

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