5 Things You Might Not Know About Rip Currents

rip-current-featuredRip cur­rents have got­ten a lot of press late­ly. Every sum­mer local and nation­al news sta­tions invari­ably run a short piece on the dan­gers of rip cur­rents. This is great, as pub­lic aware­ness is the first step to decreas­ing drown­ing acci­dents. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, most media pieces on rip cur­rents don’t tell the whole sto­ry. Here are five things you might not know about rip cur­rents that could save your life.

They don’t pull you under­wa­ter.
There is no such thing as an under­tow. Noth­ing is going to pull you under­wa­ter (except a mael­strom or very large surf). Rip cur­rents occur when water from incom­ing swell ener­gy returns to the ocean. As such, rip cur­rents do not pull under, but rather flow out­ward like a river.

They don’t always go straight out to sea.
Now we know that rip cur­rents go out, not under, but it is impor­tant to under­stand that they do not always go straight out.  Water fol­lows the path of least resis­tance. A rip cur­rent may flow straight out, it may curve, it may zig-zag, it may flow at an angle, or it may flow par­al­lel to shore and then curve sharply out­ward. Because rip cur­rents don’t always flow away from shore, many vic­tims do not real­ize they are in a rip until it is too late.

You shouldn’t always swim par­al­lel to shore.
Con­ven­tion­al wis­dom dic­tates that you should swim par­al­lel to shore when you are in a rip. That’s great if the rip is mov­ing straight out to sea, but if the rip is diag­o­nal, long­shore, or zig-zag­ging you will  tire your­self out by swim­ming par­al­lel to shore. As a rule, you should always swim per­pen­dic­u­lar to the flow of the rip, towards shore, with the wind.

You shouldn’t always wait for the rip to end.
Some peo­ple sug­gest wait­ing for the rip to stop flow­ing before fig­ur­ing out how to reach the shore. That’s fine if you are in a small rip, but some rips flow 300 yards out to sea. The best way to escape a rip is by act­ing quick­ly and ratio­nal­ly. Once you feel the pull, fig­ure out which direc­tion you are going and then fol­low the guide­lines in step three. Wait­ing until the rip ends may leave you very far from shore.

You don’t have to be an expert swim­mer to save a life.
You just need to be smart and informed. If you notice some­one in a rip, first sig­nal for help. Life­guards and surfers will be able to respond effec­tive­ly. If you are on land, call 9–11. If you have avail­able flota­tion (rafts, body boards, surf­boards) approach the vic­tim and lend the flota­tion. If you do not have flota­tion, but have avail­able assis­tance, a human chain can help pull vic­tims to the safe­ty of the sand­bar. Just remem­ber, nev­er pan­ic and nev­er ever approach a vic­tim with­out flota­tion. A poten­tial res­cuer should nev­er become a victim.