Rip Currents

Rip Currents

Many of the drowning incidents in Florida have been attributed to rip currents.  They are powerful natural phenomena in which even Olympic swimmers cannot make headway.  The lifeguarding profession has found that the most powerful tool we have to fight rip currents is education.  If you understand how rip currents form and the proper escape technique, your chance of survival if caught in one is greatly increased.  Approximately 80% of rescues by lifeguards at America's surf beaches involve rip currents. 


Rip Current Formation

When waves break, water is pushed up the slope of the shore. Gravity pulls this water back toward the sea.  A rip current forms when the water that has “piled up” on shore rushes back out to sea in a narrow path; this usually occurs where there is a break or “breach” in a near shore sandbar, or if the current is diverted by a groin or jetty. Most rip currents are temporary and the trouble spots are less than 30 feet wide.

Rip currents may pull continuously, but they can suddenly appear or intensify after a set of waves, which pushes more and more water up onto the shore.


Rip Current Survival

Break The Grip of the Rip
Break The Grip of the Rip

When swimming, choose an area protected by lifeguards. If you are not a strong swimmer, go no further than knee deep. If you decide to swim, check the conditions first to identify any dangerous currents. Ask a lifeguard for assistance, they are there to help you.


You can sometimes identify a rip current by its foamy and choppy surface. The water in a rip current may be dirty (from the sand being turned up by the current). Waves usually do not break as readily in a rip current as in adjacent water.


If caught in a rip current, try to relax.  A rip current is not an "undertow" -- it will not pull you under.  Do not try to swim against the current, as this is very difficult even for an experienced swimmer.  If you can do so, tread water and float.  Call or wave for assistance.  If no help is available and you need to get back to the beach on your own, swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current, then swim directly toward shore.  Let the waves do the work.  Swim with the waves back toward the beach, take your time, and remember to duck under the larger waves.


Information supplied by the U.S.L.A