How to Avoid and Survive Rip Currents

Rip Current Awareness Week

S C Surfbutler Beach Safety Tips Rip Currents

S C Surfbutler
Beach Safety Tips
Rip Currents

Rip Currents

Rip Currents are powerful, channeled currents of water flowing away from shore. They typically extend from the shoreline, through the surf zone, and past the line of breaking waves. Rip Currents can occur at any beach with breaking waves, including the Great Lakes.

I remember my first experience caught in a rip current like it was yesterday.  It is a very  scary feeling not being able to swim back on shore.    The greatest safety precaution that can be taken is  to recognize the danger of rip currents and to always remember to swim at beaches where there are lifeguards.

Where Rip Currents Form

Diagram of Rip Current motion going out then back to shore to left and right

Diagram courtesy of the NWS Southern Region Headquarters

Rip currents most typically form at low spots or breaks in sandbars, and also near structures such as piers and jetties.  Rip currents can be very narrow or extend in widths to hundreds of yards.  The seaward pull of rip currents varies; sometimes the rip current ends just beyond the line of breaking waves, but sometimes rip currents continue to push hundreds of yards offshore.

How to Identify Rip Currents

rip current in beach

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Field Research Facility at Duck, NC.

Look for any of these clues:

  • a channel of churning, choppy water
  • an area having a notable difference in water color
  • a line of foam, seaweed, or debris moving steadily seaward
  • a break in the incoming wave pattern

None, one or more of the above clues may indicate the presence of rip currents. Rip Currents are often not readily or easily identifiable to the average beach-goer.  For your safety, be aware of the major surf zone hazard.  Polarized sunglasses make it easier to see the rip current clues provided above.

How to Avoid and Survive Rip Currents

Rip Current Warning Sign


  • Never Swim Alone.
  • Be cautious at all times, especially when swimming at unguarded beaches.  If in doubt don’t go out!
  • Whenever possible swim at a lifeguard attended beach.
  • Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards.
  • If caught in a rip current, remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
  • Don’t fight the current.  Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of current, swim towards shore.
  • If you are still unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water.  When out of the current swim towards shore.
  • If you are still unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself: face the shore, wave your arms, and yell for help.
  • If you see someone in trouble, get help from a lifeguard.  If a lifeguard is not available, have someone call 9-1-1.  Throw the rip current victim something that floats and yell instructions on how to escape.  Remember many people drown while trying to save someone else from a rip current.

Rip Current Myth

A rip current is a horizontal current. Rip currents do not pull people under the water – they pull people away from shore.  Drowning deaths occur when people pulled offshore are unable to keep themselves afloat and swim to shore.  This may be due to any combination of fear, panic , exhaustion, or lack of swimming skills.

Local link to Beach Safety

See you at the beach!

underwater leg


4 responses to “How to Avoid and Survive Rip Currents

  1. My Tropical Home

    Excellent post! I didn’t know about rip currents. Do they form in shallow or deep water, or just any place where there are barriers? Thanks, Mary

    • Hi Mary,
      Good question. Rip currents form in shallow water near barriers such as jetties and piers. Rip currents are caused by water being pushed up the beach above mean sea level by large breaking waves. Today for example the pier is only open to surfers, because the waves are double overhead!

  2. In Australia, tourists have been lost in rips! 😦

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