Rip Tides

Rip tides are strong sea currents which push away from the shore as a strong storm is near. They are formed by the strong winds pushing water towards the shore. Winds push waves up against the shoreline even if they are hundreds of miles away.As seen on the diagram below, the incoming waves create an underwater sandbar close to shore, and the waves push more and more water in between the sandbar and the shore until a section of this sandbar collapses.All the excess water is forced through this gap, creating an extremely strong but narrow current away from the shore (seen in top view diagram above). In fact, rip tides are so strong that trying to swim back to shore against the rip tide current will only tire you out and make it that much more difficult for you to survive. Rip tides are narrow enough that if you swim parallel to shore, you can easily escape the current and then swim back to shore

How to Survive a Riptide

Rip currents, also known as rip tides or undertows, are long, narrow bands of water that can pull any objects caught in them away from shore and out to sea. Rip currents are dangerous, and it’s best to learn how to identify and stay out of them. If, however, you get caught in a rip current, it’s relatively easy to escape if you know what to do.1. Keep your feet on the bottom as much a possible when swimming in surf conditions. Rip currents can occur in any ocean or lake where surf conditions (breaking waves) exist. Keeping your feet firmly on the lake or sea floor will help you to avoid being swept out to sea by a rip current.

2. Remain calm if a rip current begins to pull you away from shore. If you get caught in a rip current, your first instinct will likely be to panic. Don’t worry, you can escape the current, but you’ll need to keep a clear head about you. Understand that a rip current will not pull you underwater; it will only pull you away from the shore.

3. Regain your footing if possible. If the current is relatively weak and you’re in shallow water, you will probably be able to touch the bottom again and prevent yourself from being dragged out further. If you can’t touch the bottom, do not struggle against the current. Rip current victims drown because they become exhausted fighting the current. Conserve your energy for methodically swimming and staying afloat.

4. Call for help immediately if you can’t swim. Rip currents are especially dangerous to people who can’t swim or who can’t swim well. If you’re not a good swimmer, get the attention of a lifeguard or of other beachgoers by waving your arms and yelling for help.5. Swim parallel to shore to get out of the current. Being caught in a rip current is like being stuck on a treadmill that you can’t turn off. Luckily, rip currents, like treadmills, are usually pretty narrow–they’re rarely over 100 feet wide–so you need only get to the side of the rip current (step off the treadmill) to escape. Rather than swim against the current toward shore, swim parallel to the shore. As you do so, the rip current will carry you further away from shore, but remember, don’t panic. Continue swimming parallel to the shore until you are clear of the current–usually no more than 100-150 feet down the beach from the point where you entered the water.

5. Float on your back or tread water if you can’t swim out of the current. If you can’t swim, or if you get tired before you manage to make it out of the current, conserve your energy and stay afloat. Continue to signal for help if there are people present. If you’re alone, just relax and stay afloat until you have enough energy to continue to swim. Rip currents generally subside 50-100 yards from the shore, so you’ll eventually stop getting pulled further out.

6. Swim toward the shore once you escape the current. When you are out of the current, either because you’ve reached its side or you’ve been carried out far enough for the current to subside, make your way back to shore. It’s generally a good idea to swim diagonally toward shore and away from the current rather than swimming straight back, as the latter method may bring you right back into the current. You may be some distance from shore at this point, so stop and float periodically if you need to rest.


* Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. If uncertain how to react while in a rip current and a beach lifeguard is nearby, wave at them. Beach lifeguards have experience and training with rip currents and are there to help you out.

* An undertow or rip tide is the same thing as a rip current. Rip current is the most accurate description of the phenomenon. The term undertow, in particular, is misleading: rip currents drag people out to sea, but they don’t drag them underwater.

* Rip currents deserve respect, but you needn’t fear them. Lifeguards sometimes intentionally swim in them to quickly reach someone beyond the surf, and surfers find them useful to easily get out to catch waves. Lifeguards and surfers, of course, are very proficient swimmers and have experience swimming in surf conditions, so most of us shouldn’t intentionally enter a rip current. That said, if you do get caught in one, remain calm.