How To Identify And Stay Safe Around Rip Currents

Going to the beach and swimming in the ocean is always a popular summer activity for families. What child doesn’t enjoy making sandcastles and splashing in the waves?

And what dog doesn’t love fetching balls and sticks thrown into the sea? But there is a hidden danger at the shoreline that if you take a minute or two to look for could save your life or the life of a family member. Rip currents. They are the number one safety threat at beaches.

Rip currents are prevalent around piers and breakwaters (like sandbars). Rip currents form between sandbars and manmade-structures as the trapped water escapes.

This creates a strong, narrow current flowing outward from the beach to the sea. Rip currents are not the same as rip tides or undercurrents.


Rip currents will not necessarily pull you under the water. Rather, they will pull you away from shore.

Not all rip currents look the same and, although some are well formed, most are difficult to see. It is therefore important to pay attention to any warning or safety signs posted at the beach and to swim in designated areas if available.

That said, here are a couple of visual cues to look out for:

Calm water in the middle of white-capped waves is most likely a rip current.


Rip currents are generally less that 10 metres (32 feet) wide.


Look for for sand, foam or debris moving seaward.


Look for differences in the color of water and variations in wave patterns.


Despite these signs, many people won’t know they are caught in a rip current until you feel yourself being pulled. If that happens, the key thing to remember is to not swim against the rip.

To try and break the grip of the rip:

1. don’t fight it or panic.
2. Swim to the left or right (swimming parallel to the shoreline). Never try to swim against the current.
3. Once you have broken free, swim back to shore.
4. If you can’t break free, tread water and try to get someones attention. Note that rip currents usually do not go out too far from shore and weaken the further out from shore you are.
5. If you see a person or a pet caught in a rip current immediately get help from a lifeguard or coast guard. Don’t attempt to rescue them yourself as you may get swept up in the rip current too.


Here’s an informational video that outlines rip currents in more detail and provides more safety tips.

Consult with your local coast guard, lifeguards, and parks board for more information on riptides and safety.

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