According to the USLA (United States Lifesaving Association), “rip currents are powerful, channeled currents of water flowing away from shore. They typically extend from the shoreline, through the surf zone, and past the line of breaking waves. Rip currents can occur at any beach with breaking waves, including the Great Lakes.”
Rip currents take over 100 lives annually, and account for 80% of water rescues performed by surf beach lifeguards. It is extremely important to recognize the danger of rip currents, swim at beaches which have lifeguards and know how to respond/escape if ever caught in one. Educating yourself, and others, could make the difference between life and death.
How do rip currents form?
As waves travel from deep to shallow water, they eventually break near the shoreline. As waves break, they generate currents that flow in both the offshore (away from the coast) and the alongshore directions. Currents flowing away from the coast are called rip currents.
Why are they dangerous?
Rip currents can be dangerous for all types of swimmers, no matter how strong or weak. The speed of a rip current is typically 1-2 feet per second, however, they can be as high as 8 feet per second which can push even the strongest swimming out to sea, leading to drowning.
How do I identify a rip current?
Noticing any clues such as a channel of churning/choppy water, an area notable difference in water color, a line of foam or seaweed moving towards the ocean and a break in wave patterns can signify the presence of a rip current. If you notice any of these things, it is important to remove yourself from the specific area of water before finding yourself in danger.
How do I escape a rip current?
As listed above, the first step is to identify.
- If you are in shallow water (waist-deep or lower) and you feel a strong pull in the water, walk (don’t swim) towards land right away and try to keep your footing. You will likely be able to walk to shore in this level of water.
- If you find yourself caught in a rip current, the first thing you need to do is stay calm. In order to escape, you will need to think clearly. Rip currents will not drag you under water, only out to sea. The only way you will go under is if you are a very weak swimmer or exhaust yourself trying to fight the current.
- Immediately call for help if you think you will not be able to reach the shore, especially if you know you are a weak swimmer. Avoid swimming into a rip current to save someone can be extremely dangerous. You will likely be thrown a floatation device to hang onto, so staying calm with help you to get to it.
- A good option for a strong swimmer is to swim parallel to the shore instead of trying to swim against it. By swimming parallel, you will be able to escape the path of the current, which moves from shore to sea.
- Conserve energy! If you are getting tired or not making any progress while waiting for help to arrive, float on your back. It is important not to fight the water, as you are more likely to go under this way. Most rip currents will subside or become weak enough to escape after the breaking waves.
Once you are out of the current, swim diagonally toward the shore. This minimizes the chance of you re-entering the current. If you are at a far distance, it is okay to stop and float in order to take a breath.
Although we hope you are never caught in this scenario, it is important to learn about rip currents, especially as summer approaches. For more information, visit http://www.usla.org/?page=RIPCURRENTS.
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