Boat Safety - Rip Currents



This article describes what a rip current is, how to recognize one and what to do if you are caught in one.


Rip Current - Definition: A large amount of water at the shoreline rushes in a narrow path back to the sea.


No matter how a rip current is formed, the effect is the same. A large amount of water at the shoreline rushes in a narrow path back to the sea. This path of water can extend as far as 3000 feet offshore, reach 90 feet in width, and travel up to four feet per second.


Rip currents, sometimes incorrectly called undertows, do not pull swimmers under the water, but can pull even experienced swimmers away from shore. A rip current is formed when water that usually moves along the shore rushes out to sea in a narrow path. This can happen where


  1. There is a break in an offshore sandbar

  2. The longshore current is diverted by a groin, pier, or jetty, or

  3. Longshore currents moving in opposite directions meet


To recognize a rip current, stand on higher ground and look for the following characteristics:

  • A streak of water that is a different color. The streak may look more murky or darker than the surrounding water

  • A gap in advancing breakers where the rip current is pushing its way seaward

  • A line of foam extending out offshore

  • An offshore plume of turbid water past the sandbar

  • If still unsure, throw a floating object into the water and see if it moves steadily seaward

What to do if you are caught in a Rip Current


  • DO NOT PANIC or try to swim against the current. Swimming against the current will make you extremely tired quickly. Even strong swimmers can't make ground against a strong rip current

  • Swim parallel to shore until you feel the current lessen and then swim to shore

  • If you can't break out of the current, float with it until it dissipates, usually just beyond the breakers. Then swim diagonally to shore.

  • If you do not swim well, know your limits, stay in wading depths, and watch for sudden drop-offs.

NO MATTER HOW WELL YOU SWIM, ALWAYS SWIM IN FRONT OF A LIFEGUARD or WITHIN THE AREAS MARKED BY LIFEGUARDS

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