How Do You Get Out Of a Rip Current


It’s summertime again and there is nothing better than a day at the beach but there is a hidden danger that reveals itself every year. It claims the lives of over a hundred beachgoers a year and is rarely talked about. it’s called Rip Current. You can identify them if you know what to look for and you can deal with one if you know what to do. How Do You Get Out Of a Rip Current?

Stay Calm
Conserve energy
Don’t swim against the current
Stay afloat 
Hold your hands up to signal help
Ride the Current in its natural circular motion to bring you back to a sandbar or waves that push you back to shore.
Or
Ride it out to deep water where the Rip will cease to exist.
Wave to Lifeguards

 

Rip Current accounts for more than 80% of all Lifeguard rescues. There are ways to recognize them and a few ways of what you can do if you get caught in one. Learn the history of the beach and whether there have been problems with Rip Currents before.

      Rip Tide vs Rip Current

A Rip is basically a strong current on the surface of the ocean that flows away from the shore. Different factors can cause a Rip Current to form. If wave heights change too rapidly a Rip Current will appear. What people don’t realize is this type of current can show up near piers, boating docks, and shallow water.

A Rip Tide, or riptide, is a strong, offshore current that is caused by the tide pulling water through an inlet along a barrier beach, at a lagoon or inland marina where tidewater flows steadily out to sea during ebb tide. It is a strong tidal flow of water within estuaries and other enclosed tidal areas.

Rip Currents happen along the East, West, and Gulf Coast and can even occur along the Great Lakes. It happens when a powerful narrow channel of fast-moving water sometimes as fast as 8 feet per/ second is formed and moves out to sea.

Rip Currents are confused with Rip Tides. The Rip Current starts in the surf zone and moves quickly out. A Rip Current can be 50 -100 ft. wide and can extend 100-300 yards or offshore. Big waves are not needed for this phenomenon to occur, all that’s needed is 2 or 3 feet of height. They can be very dangerous and hard to forecast.

Also, Rip Currents don’t need bad weather days normally they happen on really nice days following a storm. They can form at any time but will mostly come at low tide. Rip Currents mostly are created where sandbars form near the shore. They occur at breaks or channels in the bar where water is returning back out to sea. The current moves in a big circle.

This happens near the beach. These Rips can become very strong and stay in one place for weeks and even all summer long. They are often difficult to notice but the main ingredient in a Rip Current is breaking waves. If there are no breaking waves then there are no Rip Currents in the area. Another sign is where there is foaming, seaweed, or discolored water being pulled offshore.

How Far Can a Rip Current Take You

How dangerous a Rip can be is determined by the weather tides and the shape of the beach. Rip Currents can pick up speed in a short amount of time. A lot of beachgoers can be caught up in a Rip in shallow water, in only waist-deep surf. It can knock you off your feet and drag you out to deeper water. Rip Currents can generally take you out from 100 to 130 feet out to sea before it circles or stops. If you don’t panic and float you will generally by most research studies, float out of it.

If you can’t swim it might not end up too good for you. Other misconceptions are that Rip Currents pull you underwater or that they can carry miles out in the sea. They won’t for most instances your chances are very good for survival if you don’t panic!

Rips will carry you out but not down underwater. In Most cases, Rip Currents move in circles. If you’re in shallow water and you get knocked off your feet most likely the Rip will pick you up it will bring you out to deeper water than back into shallow water near the beach where it knocked you down. The whole solution is not to panic.

A Rip Current won’t drown you, it will simply carry you off and in most cases drop you back off around an area where it picked you up. Rip Currents typically flow at about 0.5 meters per second (1–2 feet per second), but they can be as fast as 2.5 meters per second (8 feet per second), which is faster than any human can swim. Rip currents carry people away from the shore. Not underwater. Rip currents are surface currents, not undertows. An undertow is a short-lived, sub-surface surge of water associated with wave action.

 

 

How to Identify a Rip Current

It’s easier to see a Rip Current from higher up. especially from the dunes overlooking the beach or the Lifeguards tower. If you know what to look out for then you can deal with it or not deal with it.

They’re usually strongest near low tide but can form at any time as long as there are waves in the ingredients. If there are no waves there won’t be a Rip Current in the water

  • Lookout from a high point at low tide for breaks or channels in a sandbar for foaming, seaweed, or discolored water being pulled offshore.
  • Rip currents often form where sand bars are near the shore.
  • They occur at breaks or channels in the sand bar.
  • In order to identify Rip Currents first, know the history of the beach
  • Look for a color change. It could be a deeper darker shade compared to the rest of the water around it.
  • Rip Currents can also be created out of the blue. All that is needed is two waves crashing into each other from different directions and boom, you got yourself a Rip Current.

In order to identify Rip Currents first, know the history of the beach. If the beach has a history of Rips then the beach should be posted with signs. Make sure that there is a Lifeguard on duty or don’t go in. By the way, lifeguards should know the history of a beach and Rip Currents for the area. Always let a Lifeguard on duty make a rescue.

If you study the water from an elevated position you will start to make them out if they are there. Then look for places where waves aren’t breaking, so flat spots are in the line of breaking waves. And then also where there’s maybe foam or sediment in the water being transported away from the beach offshore.

Always check beach conditions before you go. Check local wave conditions. If the waves are 2-3 feet or more then there could be Rips in the area where you are. Rips happen mostly at low tide. If you’re going to the beach at low tide take it into consideration.

People think they are related to bad weather but they are not. Rips are caused by waves and other factors like the tide and the shape of the ocean bottom. Rips can occur anywhere a wave is breaking. They can happen near structures or jetties or piers. Low tides and waves breaking over sandbars near shore.

Learn how to spot a Rip Current from the beach. It often looks like a calm spot between breaking waves. At first thought, a nice tranquil spot in between crashing waves. It might look real enticing or even safe to enter but in reality that might be where the Rip Current is.

Caught In a Rip Current?

The number one piece of advice anyone gets from safety instructors and lifeguards that deal with Rip Currents on a daily basis is:

  • Stay Calm- If you get caught in a Rip your actions will typically determine your fate. Panicking in the ocean can cost you your life. Try and relax and calm yourself.
  • Conserve your energy. Do not attempt to swim against the current and towards the shore. If you try and fight the current, you will expend your energy that will lead to tragic consequences.
  • Stay afloat and hold your hands up to try and get the lifeguard’s attention to signal them for help. If you relaxed and floating people will see you flagging them from shore. Especially if you get too far out.

After that, you have 2 options:

  • You can ride the Rip Current in the circular motion and allow it to bring you back to a sandbar or to breaking waves that will push you back to shore. OR
  • Ride it out to deep water where the Rip Current will cease to exist. Once out of the current you can wait for rescuers or swim back to shore.

For really strong swimmers, you can swim parallel along the beach to escape the Rip Current. To some research experts on the subject, there is still a question of whether this is the best way of dealing with it. According to NOAA Researchers who study Rip Currents all over the world:

  • Swimming Parallel to the beach gives you a 50-50 chance of swimming that you will be struggling against the hazardous current.
  • Only 10-20 % of the Rip Currents from these studies all over the world did not return back to the shore. The rest moved in a Circle.

These are studies made by Oceanographers from Australia and America who did recent studies all over the world said they are not conclusive and the jury is still out on what exactly to do if you encounter this terrible event.

The number 1 thing that everyone agrees with is not to panic. Take control of the situation and stay afloat without losing the energy that you may need. Know that these Rips are not sizable they all have limits and will stop at some point so you can get out. So Don’t Panic

  JimGalloway-Author/Editor

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