Dangers & Annoyances

Surviving a Riptide

Rip currents are formed when excess water brought to shore by waves returns to the sea in a rapidly moving depression in the ocean floor. They are comprised of three parts: the feeder current, the neck and the head.

The feeder current consists of rapidly moving water that parallels the shore but isn’t always visible from the beach. When this water reaches a channel, it switches direction and flows out to sea, forming the neck of the rip. This is the fastest-moving part of the riptide, moving with a speed of up to 10km/h. The head of the riptide current occurs past the breakers where the current quickly dissipates.

If caught in a riptide, immediately call or signal for help. Conserve your energy and do not fight the current – this is the principal cause of drownings as it’s almost impossible to swim directly back to shore. Instead, try one of two methods. The first is to float or tread water and let yourself be swept out past the breakers; once you’re in the head of the rip, you can swim out of the channel and ride the waves back to shore. Alternatively you can swim parallel to shore until the current weakens.

Rip currents usually occur on beaches with strong surf, but temporary rips can occur anywhere, especially when there is an offshore storm or during low tide. Indicators include a brownish color to the surface of the water caused by swept-up sand and debris. Also look for surface flattening, which occurs when the water enters a depression in the ocean floor and rushes back out to sea. If you’re ever in doubt, it’s best to inquire locally about swimming conditions. And never ever swim alone.