What is a rip current?
Rip currents are channeled currents of water flowing away from shore. They generally begin from the shoreline and head through the surf zone – past the line of breaking waves. Some people mistakenly call this undertow. It is important to understand that there is no undertow, just water moving away from the beach.
How do rip currents form?
Rip currents are created by wind and waves. Waves that break over shallow sandbars and reefs push water towards the shore. Water builds up near shore and must get back out to sea. This pressure creates concentrated rivers of water to move away from the beach to calmer deeper water. The water forced away from shore is otherwise known as a rip current.
How to spot a rip current:
Look for waves breaking over shallow reefs and/or sandbars. Then look for deeper channel(s) without waves breaking. This is where water will be moving away from shore. Rip currents will look similar to a moving river with little chops breaking against the flow of water. The bigger the breaking waves, the more water trapped, the stronger the rip. LOOK FOR STRONG CURRENT BEACH SIGNS! Check your local forecast.
Exercise caution if you see the following:
- a channel of churning, choppy water
- an area with a noticeable difference in color
- a line of foam, seaweed, or debris moving steadily out to sea
- and/or a break in the incoming wave pattern
If you get caught in one:
- Don’t Fight The Rip Current – Conserve energy, keep calm, float, breathe, don’t panic, and wave for help
- Go With The Flow – You can easily float in the current, there is no undertow. Allow the current to take you away from the beach. In weaker rips, swim parallel to the shore until the current has completely relaxed. Otherwise, the current will eventually release you offshore. Once this happens swim perpendicular then at an angle and towards the beach
- Wait For Help – If there is large surf or shoreline hazards, wave your hands for help and wait for assistance
If you see someone caught in a rip current, DO NOT try to rescue them yourself, instead:
- Get a lifeguard or call 911.
- Yell instructions to remain calm.
- If possible, throw a life preserver or floatation device.
- Try to keep a visual until help arrives.
These things may help you save a life.
The ocean is a source of fun and excitement, but always be aware and careful of hazards that exist. Only swim at lifeguard protected beaches. Before your next trip to the beach, know how to spot a rip current and how to break the grip of the rip.
Did you know?
About one person, on average, annually in the United States will die from a shark bite. 100+ people drown in rip currents each year.