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How to Spot a Rip Current in the Ocean

According to the United States Lifesaving Association, 80% of lifeguard rescues are from individuals being stuck in rip currents and there are over 100 deaths per year connected to this same issue.

Looking at these statistics, it's clear that all surfers need to be aware of the dangers and powers of the ocean, more specifically, rip currents.

Whether you know little about a rip current, or you've been trapped in one yourself, keep reading to learn everything you need to know about how to spot a rip current.

What is a Rip Current?

A rip current, also commonly called a rip, is a strong water current that goes directly away from the shore.

If you find yourself stuck in a rip current, you can be sucked further out into deeper waters.

There are two main parts of a rip current, the neck and the head.

Rip Current Explained: Neck

The neck of a rip current is where the water quickly flows away from the shore and where people often get stuck.

Rip Current Explained: The Head

The head is where the rip current ends.

These strong currents can be up to 8 feet per second, meaning that no one is able to simply swim directly against the current.

Even still, many who find themselves stuck in rip currents try to swim straight back to shore and end up exhausting themselves — and risk drowning.

How to Identify a Rip Current: 5 Things to Look for

1: Brown Colored Water

The first way to sport a rip current: brown colored water.

Before swimming, check to make sure there isn’t an excessive amount of sand being brought up to the surface of the water.

Rip currents are known to bring large amounts of sand out from the shore with the forceful flow of water.

Because of this, the water in rip currents often appears to be a brown, sandy color.

2: Break in the Waves

Since the flow of water is going the opposite direction of the shore during a rip current, there will be a break in the waves directly where the rip current is.

Waves will still be crashing on each side of the channel.

3: Darker Blue Water

Another way to spot a rip current: look for darker blue water.

Rip currents can also be darker blue colors because of the deep channels in which rip currents flow through.

4: A Ripple

When water flows in opposite directions, it causes a ripple on the surface of the water. With that being said, in places where rip currents are present, ripples often appear on the surface.

5: Debris or Seaweed

Similar to sand, seaweed and debris will be pulled from shore or surrounding waters into the channel.

So, as you arrive at the beach check for any floating items before paddling out or swimming.

If you see any, it could be an indication of a rip current.

What To Do In A Rip Current

Step 1: Don’t try to battle the rip current, and stay calm!

Rip currents are extremely strong and no one — even the best swimmers — can swim directly against the current.

If you find yourselves stuck in this situation, stay calm and try to not use up all your energy.

If you frantically swim against the current, you'll find yourself in the most dangerous situations.

Step 2: Paddle parallel.

Since rip currents are flowing directly out to the ocean, your best bet is to swim sideways until you are out of the current.

Once you are out of the rip current zone, you will be able to make your way back to shore.

Step 3: Float and yell for help.

If the current is so strong and you can’t make it out by swimming parallel to the shore, stay afloat and signal or yell for help.

After exhausting most of your energy trying to escape the rip current, you are safer staying where you are and waiting for a lifeguard to assist you.

However, rip currents can be extremely beneficial to surfers if used properly. Since there is a break in waves where the channel is located, surfers can easily reach the lineup without having to dodge many waves.

The strong flow of water will also allow surfers to paddle out much quicker.

How to Spot A Rip Current

Although everyone focuses on how to get the best quality and quantity of waves, safety is the main priority to make sure that you can keep doing what you love.

Knowing the risks and being able to identify rip currents can prevent possible injuries and potentially save your life.

So, although rip currents can be beneficial or appealing to surfers, it is extremely important to avoid getting caught in the power of them.


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