Safety First

The information on this page can save your life. Please read and share!

Rip currents are the most hazardous beach condition a swimmer can face wherever there are breaking waves. Over 100 people drown in rip currents every year. The tragedy is compounded by the fact that rip currents are so very easy to avoid, and very easy to escape if you do happen to get caught up in one.

What is a Rip Tide???

A rip tide is not a tide, it is a current. When waves hit the beach they hit at an angle and push water ahead of them. This water forms a current that flows parallel to the shore, called the longshore current. When the shape of the beach changes, or the current direction changes (as in from North-South to Northeast-Southwest) the speed of the current changes. Locally this can cause more water to flow into an area than can flow out, and water will pile up. This is much like a traffic jam for the currents. However, the water, which is trapped next to the shore, cannot get out because of the longshore current. Eventually, so much water will pile up that it breaks through the longshore current in a small area. The large amount of water rushing through a small break causes a strong current in a small area that flows perpendicular (away) from the shore. This is the rip tide. Once past the longshore current, the rip current is no longer confined to a small area (bottleneck) and will spread out and disappear.

Spotting a Rip Current.

A rip current looks like a small river on the water’s surface flowing away from the beach. They are sometimes brownish and foamy and can flatten incoming waves making the sea look calm. Once past the breakers the current will disperse frequently forming a mushroom shape.

The Danger

Rip currents kill by dragging swimmers out into deep water. While fighting to swim back to shore the swimmer becomes exhausted, can no longer stay afloat and drowns. Many non-swimmers are caught in rip currents when standing in shallow water. The powerful rip currents knock them off their feet and carry them away. Since they don't know how to swim they invariably drown.

Escaping a Rip Current.

  • The key to surviving a rip current is never to fight it.
  • Swim out of it, not against it.
  • This is done by swimming parallel to shore, sideways out of the rip. 

rip current 1

Surviving a Rip Current

If you find yourself being pulled out to sea, don’t panic. You are caught in a rip current that you can swim out of. To get out of the rip swim parallel to shore. That is, swim so that the shore is either to your right or your left.

Never swim against the current.

Since rip currents are fairly narrow you will be out of the “rip” in no time. You can either swim back to shore or let the waves help you back in.

If you don't know how to swim but like to wade in the surf, please learn how to recognize rip currents and avoid them.