A rip tide, or more accurately a rip current, is extremely dangerous even for an experienced swimmer. These strong currents pull you away from the beach and can quickly pull you out to sea.
It doesn’t have to be raining or stormy for there to be a rip current. Even on sunny days these dangerous undertows can occur, so you should always check the beach safety flag at the lifeguard station to determine the water conditions. That, and knowing what to do and how to get out if you get caught in one, could save your life.
Commonly called a rip tide, it really isn’t one. A tide is the normal rise and fall of sea levels during the course of a day. The proper name is rip current, which is a powerful flow of water moving away from the shore. Even in knee deep water, these currents are strong enough to knock you off your feet and carry you out to sea in seconds.
Rip currents are most prevalent after a storm, but it doesn’t have to be stormy on the beach for one to occur. Sometimes tropical storms or hurricanes far out in the ocean can create shoreline water conditions that cause a rip current to form, often in sandbar breaks near the shore.
Although rarely more than 30 feet wide, a rip current can extend as far as 1000 feet off shore. It can travel as fast as 3 miles per hour, which doesn’t sound like a much, but with the force of the water behind it, it can easily knock down a child and many adults.
A rip current can be identified by the flow of water perpendicular to the beach. It’s not as easy to see at sea level, but lifeguards have a better view from their high seats looking down on the water. They will tell you where there is a rip current if there is one, and to stay clear of it. You can also check with the National Weather Service before you head to the beach.
If you are caught in a rip current don’t panic. You CAN get out of it but NOT by swimming to shore since it is pulling you AWAY from shore.
A rip current is generally only about 30 feet or so wide, so by swimming perpendicular to the flow, you will swim out of it. If it is too strong to swim, relax and float until you can start swimming, and always swim parallel to the beach.
Below is a brief video from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Remember, even if you are a strong swimmer, a rip tide or rip current can pull you out to sea, even from only knee deep water. The current is very strong.
Don’t put yourself or others who might try to help you in danger by going in the water where there is a rip current or if there is a double red flag. Learn more at the NOAA website.
If you’ve ever been in one of these terrifying currents, tell us about it in the comments below. We’d Love to hear your story.
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