What is a rip tide?
A rip tide or rip current is a naturally occurring, strong current that flows away from the shore into an ocean or large lake. If you find yourself in one, it can be a horrifying experience. Rip tides occur due to wind and currents pushing water towards the shore. When the water needs to find a way back due to gravity, it will travel down the shoreline until an outlet of little resistance is found. When two of these converge from different directions, a strong undertow will occur under the surface. Rip currents are stronger when the surf is particularly rough and when winds are stronger. Rip currents will not pull you underwater. The strong undertows cause around 100 deaths annually in the United States, and are the cause of around 80% of all seaside lifeguard rescues. Before you take a dip or if you’re already beginning to be pulled seaward, keep these tips in mind!
1. Learn to Identify a Rip Tide
It’s hard to tell if a rip tide is present but upon close inspection there are telltale signs. Listed below are some signs of the presence of a rip tide:
- A perpendicular channel of churning water
- A floating line of seaweed, foam or other debris flowing out to sea
- A differentiation of the water pattern of incoming surf
- Discolored water beyond the surf, hinting at sand being pulled out to sea
Rip currents are pretty subtle, so keep a keen eye on where you and your loved ones are swimming. Usually a rip tide will be advertised by lifeguard stands or signs put up by beach patrol.
2. Don’t Panic
If you missed a sign and are now caught in a rip tide, the most important thing to remember is to remain calm. If you flail around, you will be wasting valuable energy that you’ll soon need to swim back to shore. Rip currents can pull faster than a seasoned swimmer can swim, so there is no use in fighting it!
Think of a rip tide as a treadmill that you need to step off of. The water is just pulling you backwards, not under. You can either float and ride it out, or swim parallel to the shore. If you feel it, immediately begin calling for help to a lifeguard. Once you’ve swam parallel to the shore long enough, you’ll feel the pull of the undertow ease and weaken. Rip currents usually peter out 50 to 100 yards offshore. Once out, you are now free to swim back to shore. After a rip tide you should swim back to the shore in a diagonal line away from where you experienced the back current.
4. Helping Others in a Rip Tide
If you see someone who is caught in a rip tide, do not risk your own life trying to help them unless you have proper training or extensive experience with undertows. If you are not confident in making an aquatic rescue, immediately alert a lifeguard or call 9-1-1 if one is not present. You can also throw the person a floatation device and the riptide will carry it to them. Also, yell the above instructions to them if they are panicking. Good luck out there!
David Hook is a writer and artist from Austin, Tx who loves to blog about survival tips on behalf of Dry Experts Water Removal of San Antonio, Tx.
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