In this post, you will learn how to survive a rip current. It explains how to identify a rip current and what to do to get out of one. You will also learn the difference between tides and currents and how to use them in water survival.
The information in this post is from “Swim Workouts and Water Rescue Skills” by Sam Fury.
Tides and Currents
Tide refers to the rising and falling of the sea. High tide is when the water is at its highest level, and low tide is when it is at its lowest level.
A few different natural forces influence tidal characteristics. It is important to check the tidal times depending on where and when you plan to visit the beach.
The change of water level due to tides can completely change the landscape within a short period of time. For example, if you walk out to a land mass in the morning, in the afternoon the path that you used may be underwater.
Current refers to the constant flow of water. It is always there and it acts differently depending on many factors. These include water volume, channel width, gradient, weather, obstructions, etc.
Although you can use water currents in your favor, they can also take you where you do not want to go. Even slow ones can knock a person off his feet and carry him out to sea/downstream.
Currents are usually slower along the inside bend of rivers opposed to the outside bend. Also, currents are faster on the surface of the water.
How to Survive a Rip Current
What is a rip current?
Rip currents can occur near beaches with breaking waves. They are strong currents which drag swimmers out to sea. Generally, the larger the waves, the stronger the rip current will be.
How far can a rip current take you?
There is not an exact distance since each rip current is different. The good news is that the current will always fade out, so there is a definite limit.
Did You Know?
There are over 100 rip current deaths in the US every year – US Lifesaving Association.
How to Spot a Rip Current
What does a rip current look like?
- A channel of rippled water (more-so than the surrounding water).
- Dark water (indicates greater depth).
- Debris and/or sea-foam moving in a steady line out to sea.
- Different colored water beyond the breaking waves.
- Murky water (indicates disturbed sand by the rip).
- Waves breaking further out to sea on both sides of the rip.
Look for a channel of water that is different (calmer or choppier) than the water surrounding it.
A rip current may also be present with none of these characteristics showing.
How to Swim Out of a Rip Current
- Do not try to swim against it!
- Stay calm.
- Swim parallel to the shore until you reach the breaking waves zone, then swim back to shore.
- If you can’t escape it, conserve your energy (float or tread water) and signal for help.
In this picture, the thin arrows show the direction of the current. The 4 thicker arrows are your channels of escape.
Rip Current Video
Here is a short video about how to escape a rip current.
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