You may have experienced a rip current (or rip tide as they’re also called) as a child without ever knowing exactly what it was. All you really remember is the current pulling you out to sea when, in the distance, you heard the lifeguard’s whistle and they directed you to go to the left or right. Little did you realize at the time that the lifeguard was actually directing you out of the grips of a rip current.
A rip current is a powerful, channeled current that often forms at low spots or breaks in sandbars. It may be narrow or several yards wide. You can often spot it where there are breaks between waves coming to shore. Another way to spot them is where the water is churning up and it’s a different color, a result of stirring up the sand on the bottom.
It helps to read about what to do should you ever find yourself in a rip current but we think it’s even more useful to see it in action. Take a look at this YouTube video entitled “Deadly Rip Currents: How to Survive”. It’s a video of an ABC News reporter’s firsthand experience at swimming in a rip current and attempting to escape from it. We strongly encourage you not to try this on your vacation.
Rip currents can move at speeds up to eight feet per second so it’s easy to be swept hundreds of feet from shore before you even realize it’s happened. It’s one of the leading causes of rescues by lifeguards at the beach each year. It’s also a leading cause of death at the beach.
What is most important to know is that you should not attempt to swim against the current and back to shore. It’s impossible and you’ll tire yourself out trying to the point of exhaustion. What you should do instead is to swim perpendicular to the current. A rip current only goes in one direction – out to sea. Turn left or turn right and swim in that direction and you’ll quickly find yourself out of the currents forces.
It’s always wise to listen to the weather forecast before going to the beach. SurfZone Forecasts will contain valuable rip current information such as the risk of rip currents (low, medium or high). Lifeguards are also a good source of rip current information when you arrive at the beach. If you’d like to read more about Rip Current Safety check out the National Weather Service website.