Here’s What To Do If You’re Caught In A Rip Current

Firstly, don't panic.

Kirsten Curtis |

According to the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI), rip currents claim the lives  each year. As summer draws to a close, you might be tempted to spend the last of the sun-filled days at the beach with your mates or your family. In doing so, it’s important to know exactly what to do if you or a loved one is caught in a rip current.

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How To Identify A Rip Current

“Rip currents usually form next to land or rocks that go out into the water,” says professional lifeguard, Craig Willars. They occur at points where waves are most likely to break. “Beaches that have a heavy shore break usually have trenches which run parallel to the shore. A rip current will run sideways and then eventually head out to sea.”

When a rip current forms, the waves surrounding it are smaller and there are less breaking waves. “The water is also choppy and messy where the rip is occurring,” he says. “You may see a plume of sand or foam that follows the rip current.”

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What You Should Do If You’re Trapped

“The most common mistake people make is they panic and then try to swim straight into the rip current,” explains Craig. The lifeguard says this is a bad idea even if you’re a good swimmer. “Most of the time even good swimmers can’t swim against the current.”

Instead, if you’re a strong swimmer, the best thing for you to do is let the current take you out. “It becomes weaker the further out it goes,” the lifeguard explains. “This won’t tire you out and you’ll then be able to signal for assistance if you’re on a lifeguard patrolled beach.”

For those with enough stamina to swim, Craig recommends swimming perpendicular to the rip current (that means swimming at a 90 degree angle away from it). “Eventually, you’ll swim out of it and then you’ll be able to swim to shore. If you’re unsure where to swim, swim towards the “bigger” waves.” He also advises you signal for assistance if you begin to fatigue.

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How To Help Someone Else In Danger

“If you’re not a confident swimmer, don’t enter the water,” says Craig. “This is how loads of accidents happen and unnecessary lives are lost.” Instead, the lifeguard recommends you alert a lifeguard on duty if they have not seen the incident taking place.

If you are not at a lifeguard patrolled beach, phone the NSRI at 112 (which can be called from your cellphone) and request immediate assistance.

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