Beware of the Dangers of Rip Currents

Updated: Jul 20

What are rip currents?

"Rip currents" can arise in low spots or breaks in sandbars, as well as near structures like jetties and piers, as longshore currents travel on and off the beach. A rip current, also known as a rip tide, is a confined stream that flows perpendicular or at an acute angle to the shoreline, and toward the ocean. It usually breaks up close to the coast and is no more than 25 meters wide.

Rip currents travel at 1 to 2 feet per second on average. Some rip currents, however, have been recorded at 8 feet per second, which is faster than any Olympic swimmer has ever achieved. When wave activity is minimal, many small rip currents of varying sizes and speeds might occur. However, rip currents can arise in areas where there is more wave movement, resulting in fewer, more concentrated rip currents.

How to Avoid Getting Caught in a Rip Current

Beach swimmers must be cautious since rip currents flow perpendicular to the shore and can be very violent. A person caught in a rip can be immediately swept away from the shore. Because most rip currents are less than 80 feet wide, swimming parallel to the coast rather than towards it is the safest method to avoid being caught in one. Because rip currents linger close to shore and normally diminish just beyond the line of breaking waves, a swimmer can also let the current take him or her out to sea until the power weakens. If one gets caught in a rip current, the most important thing to remember is not to panic. Continue to breathe deeply, try to keep your head above water, and avoid exhausting yourself by fighting the stream. Swim sideways, parallel to the beach, to get clear of the rip current. This will pull you out of the rip current and allow you to swim back into the water with the waves assisting you. Swim away from the rip current and toward shore once you've gotten out of it. If you can't get out this way, try floating or treading water gently. Offshore, the rip current gradually lessens. When this happens, swim away from the rip current and toward the beach.


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