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What are rip currents

The ocean is a very powerful mass of water that cannot be taken lightly. The number 1 hazard on all beaches world wide are rip currents. Rip currents are deeper channels of water reaching the shore, which finds a way back into the ocean away from the shoreline. Intermediate and advanced surfers will actually use currents to get to the line up quicker. It is important to learn what are rip currents, how to spot rip currents and how to avoid them. Rip currents might lead to severe problems when swimmers try to swim back against such a current. They might become exhausted and begin to panic.

Here are some helpful tips on how to identify and escape a rip current:

1 IDENTIFY A RIP CURRENT

Rip currents are powerful, channeled water currents flowing back into the ocean. They can occur at any beach and typically extend from the shoreline to the surf zone and sometimes beyond. They are hard to spot for the untrained eye but there are some clues to look out for. This way you can identify and avoid them. Note that rip currents always flow fastest around low tide. Look out for these clues before entering the water :

  • channel of churning, choppy water
  • rippled or criss-crossed water
  • foamy water
  • darker, calmer areas of water
  • a line of debris steadily floating seaward

2 ESCAPE A RIP CURRENT

The best way to avoid rip currents is to try to swim in a patrolled area of the beach. Lifeguards usually know where the rip currents form and they will steer you away from these channels.
If you still get caught in a rip current do not panic. You have several options to escape the rip so do not fatigue yourself by panicking and wasting your energy. These are your options to escape a rip current:

  • Stay calm and rise and wave your arms to attract attention 
  • You may escape the rip by swimming parallel to the beach.Swimming with the current along the shore will help you out of the rip more quickly. Always try to locate these currents before entering the water.
  • Some rips flow in a circular pattern that will guide you to an adjacent sandbar.

3 EXTRA TIPS

  • Get comfortable swimming in the ocean. Swim close to a lifeguard and get used to the ocean. This will help your paddling performance too.
  • Pay attention to warnings from lifeguards, flags or coloured signs.
  • Never swim alone and always in an area where there is a lifeguard on duty.
  • Calm water is not always safe water. Always look out for rips.
  • Do not fight against the current, stay calm and think clearly.
  • If you see someone in trouble call a lifeguard or throw him something that floats. Keep a close eye on him and yell instructions on how to escape.
  • Give piers and jetties a wide berth
  • Polarized sunglasses can help you identify rip currents
what are rip currents sign

Rip current warning sign   Photo by Jimflix!

Featured image by Charleschandler