Surviving a Riptide

Riptides, undertows, rip currents are dangerous to swimmers and kill dozens of people every year.

A rip current is a strong water current that pulls swimmers away from the shore. They can occur near any beach including large lakes where waves break. Surfers and kayakers sometimes use them to clear the shoreline and move into the deep water quickly without much paddling.

Rip currents can be very dangerous to inexperienced swimmers. Make sure you know the simple way to escape the rip and stay safe in the water.

Rip current tend to be unpredictable and getting sucked out into the sea can be an absolutely terrifying experience. The danger lies in the swimmer panicking and drowning from exhaustion trying to get back onto the beach. Rip currents can occur in shallow water, never leave small children unattended.

Characteristic Appearance

There are several different types of rip currents, some can be seen from above. All are powerful currents that are perpendicular to the beach. Look for different colors than the rest of the water. Look for a noticeable flat break in the shoreline, the current can look like a river running out towards the open ocean in-between breaking waves. Look for strange foam patterns or sand and seaweed being churned around. Avoid going in the ocean if you see calm patches between breaking waves. Be careful around sand bank openings, and especially near structures like piers or jetties. 

Look for things that are odd or different.

Break the Grip

You might feel you are being pulled away from the shore rapidly. How fast? Up to 8 feet per second. Attempting to head straight back might become impossible. Do not panic, try to remain calm and don’t fight the current. The rip will not pull you under the surface just further away from the shore until it looses its momentum. 

Conserve your energy by floating or treating water until the pull lessens. Try to get somebodies attention if you can. A rip is a fairly narrow channel of water, you will be able to exit in a diagonal direction and swim back to shore.

Image: Li Yang

Image: Li Yang


Swim parallel to the shore

You must exit the rip sideways and swim parallel to the shore and out of the current. Look for white water where the waves are breaking, swim at an angle towards the beach. 

Once you made it back safely, warn fellow beachgoers or alert a life guard.