Scared of sharks in the water? There's a much bigger threat along New Jersey's coast, and one that's proven to be much deadlier.

Logan Mock-Bunting, Getty Images

As beach weather persists in the Garden State, you're being warned to look out for rip currents in the ocean that can pull you way in a matter of seconds.

According to Jon Miller, a research associate professor at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, sandbars — or the gaps in them — are a typical cause of these powerful currents. And a late January nor'easter that took plenty of sand from the shore may add to the problem this summer.

"Once the water comes in ... it looks for the easiest way out, and wherever there's a hole in the sandbar, that's where the water looks to escape," Miller said.

Rips can also occur next to any structures along the sand and water, such as piers and jetties, Miller said. And from time to time, "flash rip currents" appear out of nowhere.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says rip currents can move at speeds of up to eight feet per second.

Since 1998, nearly 40 people have lost their lives as a result of rip currents at New Jersey and Delaware beaches, according to the National Weather Service office in Mount Holly, reported.

Lifeguards have a good idea of rip current hot spots along their beaches, but you can also help keep yourself out of trouble by identifying areas where waves aren't breaking. That's a strong indicator of rip currents, according to Bill Stull, a lieutenant with Upper Township Beach Patrol.

He's been pulled out as far as 100 yards in the past.

"Just don't panic. That's the main thing," Stull said.

If caught in a rip current, swimming against the current could lead to fatigue and will likely get you nowhere. You're advised to swim parallel to the shore to get out of the current's path.