A rip current is a strong, localized and rather narrow current of water. Rip currents are usually strongest near the surface of the water and they move directly away from the shore, cutting through the lines of breaking waves. From oceans, seas and large lakes rips can occur at any beach that has breaking waves.
Rip currents are hazardous because they can be difficult to identify. This is especially true because they are often encountered by people with no experience with ocean waves and currents. I live in a small coastal town in the state of Washington and I’m saddened by the number of children, adults and pets that lose their lives every year on our beautiful beach.
The average beachgoer or vacationer needs to know the clues to identify a rip current. Some of ways to identify a rip include:
• A break in the wave pattern as the waves roll into shore by this I mean a flat spot in the incoming waves.
• An area of churning and choppy water.
• Seafoam, seaweed or debris moving in a line steadily seaward.
• An area of different colored water beyond the surf zone.
One or several or sometimes none of these clues may be present to indicate that there is a rip. It’s important to ALWAYS use caution when entering the water in our oceans and lakes.
Learning to spot a rip current can help you get caught. Some inexperienced beachgoers will notice a calm patch of water between more turbulent breaking waves which presents as an inviting pathway. This area is actually a rip above a deep sandbar channel, and people will inadvertently enter in the most dangerous spot because it looks calm.
Avoidance is the most important way to survive a rip current. It’s very important that anyone who enters ankle-deep into the ocean needs to know how to swim and how to float. It’s easy to be caught in a rip, most often it happens in waist deep water. If the person were to dive into a wave they will resurface much further from the beach and still being pulled further out from the beach.
What the person does next can decide the fate of their beach experience:
• Remain calm and conserve energy, a rip is like a giant treadmill with no off switch.
• Never try to swim against the rip. Even a small rip tide can move faster than an Olympic swimmer can swim.
• Try swimming parallel to shore and out of the current. Rip currents are often narrow so once you are out of the current you can begin swimming back to shore
• If it’s too difficult to swim sideways out of the current, try floating or treading water and let nature take care of you by conserving energy you’ll be able to swim to shore when the current circulates back to shore.
If you are with someone who gets caught up in a rip current, Do Not attempt to rescue them. Call 911, get help from a lifeguard if one is available and throw a floatation device into the rip current. We see too many tragedies of people trying to save the rip victim becoming drowning victims themselves.