Lifeguards on beaches all over the US save thousands of people from rip tides each year, and whether you’re taking off on an adventure on your inflatable paddle board or just going for a swim, it is essential to understand what a rip tide is and ways to help yourself if you do get caught in one.
If you’re heading down to your local beach or you just want to top up on sea safety knowledge, we’re going to break down exactly what a rip tide is and some survival tips to remember when you’re out on the water, so keep on reading!
First, it is important to understand what a rip tide is and how it works. Rip tides, also known as rip currents, are narrow channels of water that are fast-moving (faster than an Olympic swimmer) and start at the beach.
Occasionally, when the waves hit the beach in a certain way and travel from deep to shallow waters, they produce currents influenced by the ocean floor, thus producing a rip current.
The water channel then extends out through the waves, and if you happen to get caught in a rip current, you too will be pulled out with it.
Even though rip currents are strong, they will not pull you underwater, just out in it, and luckily there are a few simple tips that could help save your life should you get caught in one.
Rip currents can sometimes be difficult to see, but as a rule, if there are areas where the waves aren’t breaking, or there is discolored water, seaweed, or foam being pulled away from the shore, there is most likely a rip current.
Low tide and waves higher than two feet often produce strong currents, and lifeguards will usually set up red and yellow flags in areas where it is unsafe to swim.
Yellow flags indicate that some rip current activity is possible, whereas red flags mean there is a high level of rip currents, and you shouldn’t swim there.
When there are chances of rip currents, it is recommended that adults only go in waist-deep waters, and children or weak swimmers should stay along the shoreline in shallow water.
The shallower waters give you more control over the pull of the current, as your feet will remain firmly planted on the ground.
This also goes with paddle boarding; if you’re taking your board out, only paddle in water that comes up to your waist, so if you need to get off your board because it’s being pulled away, you can safely stand up in the water.
Carrying on from our last point, keeping your feet grounded on the floor allows you to pull away from the water and reduces the chances of water carrying you away from the shore.
Your feet will act as an anchor and help stabilize your body. If your feet get swept away by the current, try your best to reconnect them with the ocean floor as quickly as possible.
One of the most essential rules of battling a rip tide is to stay calm. Panicking will only worsen the situation, so it is best to breathe normally and float along with the current.
Panicking could cause you to inhale water, exhaust yourself, or even pass out, all of which would have fatal consequences.
If you feel yourself being pulled out, call for help.
Wave your arms above your head while being careful to keep your head above water, and shout the word help. A nearby lifeguard will spot you and come to your rescue.
If you’re paddle boarding, you’re more likely to get swept out faster because of the increased surface area your board gives you. As with swimming, remain calm, lie, sit or kneel on your board, and wave your arms or paddle above your head.
Some extra precautions you can take on a paddle board are always to wear a paddle board leash to keep your board tethered to you so it can act as a flotation device and to carry your phone in a waterproof case in cause you really get swept out and need to call the coastguard for help.
Rip currents flow in a somewhat straight line, so the easiest way to break free is to swim parallel to the shore.
The currents are narrow channels of water, and swimming parallel for a few strokes may be all you need to break free from the pull that the current produces.
Rip currents are extremely powerful, and even the strongest swimmers wouldn’t be able to swim straight against them.
At all costs, don’t ever swim against a rip current because you’ll exhaust yourself, which could result in you going under.
Stay calm, swim sideways, and call for help.
If you aren’t a strong swimmer and you feel you need to conserve energy, roll onto your back and float along with the current on the sea’s surface in the starfish position.
Rip currents get weaker the further out they go, so at some point, you will be able to break free and swim out of the channel without expending any energy.
If you get caught in a rip current, keep calm, don’t fight it, call for help, and float along until you feel strong enough to break away.
Rip currents are channels of narrow water that begin near shore and pull the water and anything else in it out to sea. An indicator of a rip current is a darker area of water, where waves don’t break, but they do have breaking waves on either side.
If you find yourself in a rip current, you will be swept out to sea with the water, but don’t panic; there are ways you can break away.
Remain calm and allow the water to pull you out. Swimming directly against the current will tire you, so stay afloat on the water's surface, and when you feel like the current has weakened, swim parallel to the shore so you can break free.
Although rip currents can be extremely dangerous, there are a few tips you can follow to give you the best chance of breaking free and living to tell the tale.
Rip currents pull water from the shore, out to sea, so if you get caught in a current, you too, will be pulled out, not under.
With that being said, if you panic in the process, your head may dip underwater, so try to remain as calm as possible.
If you’ve found yourself caught in a rip current, the best way to get out of it and back to shore is first to remain as calm as possible.
Allow the water to pull you out and never fight against it; this will only tire you, which could have devastating consequences.
Call for help by waving your arms above your head and shouting help. The current will eventually grow weaker and, at this point, swim parallel to shore.
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