Rip tide safety: what you need to know

What are riptides?

A rip current or rip tide, often called a rip, is a specific kind of fast-moving water current flowing away from the shore that can occur near beaches with breaking waves. A rip is a strong, localized, and narrow current of water that moves directly away from the coast, cutting through the lines of breaking waves like a river running out to sea. Rip tides can occur in any large body of water, but they are most common in the ocean.

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How do riptides form?

Rip currents develop when waves break close to the shore, piling water between the breaking waves and the beach. Rip currents cause tiny to large streams of water that fastly flow away from the coast and are frequently perpendicular to the shoreline, are one method by which this water returns to the sea.

Riptides can form very quickly and “out of nowhere,” which means you should always be aware of your surroundings while in the ocean.

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How to spot a riptide?

There’s a reason why lifeguards always have the highest seat on the beach, residing in their towers high off of the ground to keep a keen eye on all the beachgoers. It is much easier to see rip currents up high, especially from a bird’s eye view, as a drone can provide.

Look for a choppy, turbulent area of water, a location where the color of the water alters, a constant seaward flow of debris, seaweed, or foam, or a break in the arrival of waves.

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What are the dangers of riptides?

Rip tides pose a threat because they have the potential to drag people into dangerously deep water, where they may get stuck out to sea. Most of the time, a combination of fear, shock, fatigue, or a lack of swimming skill is at fault. Rip currents may carry even the finest swimmer away, but they are particularly dangerous to non-swimmers and fragile people.


What to do if you find yourself caught in a riptide?

If you ever find yourself in a rip current, the most crucial thing to remember is to keep your cool. Poor decision-making is easily caused by exhaustion from anxiety. Swimming parallel to the coast until you are free of the current is the best course of action. You may then swim back to the shore at an angle away from the riptide.

Float or tread water if you find yourself without any energy and unable to swim away. Additionally, call for assistance if anyone is in earshot while gently waving your arms to draw attention if you ever feel like you won’t be able to make it to shore. Hopefully, the lifeguard will see that you need assistance and so will anybody else nearby.

Surfers have proven to be a lifesaver for many people caught in riptides because they are perched high when they sit on the water with their surfboards, which also serve as excellent impromptu lifesaving tools.

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Some tips on how to stay safe from rip tides

Never swim alone, if there is a lifeguard on duty nearby swim where they can see you easily, and stay away from locations where rip tides are known to occur.


Lifeguard Flags

The on-duty lifeguard may put warning flags on the coast if there is a rip tide or other danger. Yellow flags at the water’s edge warn against going in, but if you can swim well, you can go ahead. Red flags often mean the water is restricted because it is too dangerous for surfers and swimmers of all skill levels to enter. No flags are the lowest level of caution. Ask the on-duty lifeguards for clarification if you ever have any questions about the flag system because various beaches may have different guidelines.

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With these tips in mind, you can help to keep yourself and others safe from rip tides and other dangers while swimming in the ocean.


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