How to survive a rip current

Written by on 27th October 2014
Published in How To
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I’ve just heard some terribly sad news about three surfers who have died after getting caught in a rip current at one of my favourite beaches in the world, Mawgan Porth. I would like to offer sincere condolences to friends and family of those involved and offer some advice on how to get out of a ‘rip’ to anyone reading this.

Firstly it’s important to identify what a rip current is and although I’ve done my SLSGB Beach Lifeguard course plenty of times, I’m going to spare you the jargon and lay it out simply: A rip current is a body of water moving away from the beach back out to the ocean usually to just past the waves break.

If you ignore the jargon and focus on the video and arrows on screen this video explains, or at least shows rip currents nicely:

Rip currents are capable of dragging even the strongest of swimmers and surfers far away from the shore which will cause distress and panic, leading to severe fatigue and can be fatal.

To spot a rip current look out for:

  • A choppy body of water that has a churning motion
  • A line of sea foam, seaweed or debris that is moving steadily out to sea
  • A disrupted pattern of incoming waves

If you see any of the above, avoid.

If you do get caught in a rip current, don’t panic. Try to remember a few simple rules:

  • Keep calm. Don’t fight the rip current as you will get completely knackered
  • To get out of the rip current, swim sideways, parallel to the beach. This will get you out of the rip so you can swim back in with the waves helping you
  • When you are definitely out of the rip, swim at an angle away from the rip current still and towards the beach
  • If you can’t escape this way, try to float or calmly tread water until the rip strength weakens (outback past where the waves break). This will be daunting as you’ll be quite far out to sea but now you will be able to swim parallel to the beach and then towards shore
  • If you feel like you’re not going to make it in, draw attention to yourself: face the beach, wave your arms and shout for help.

It would be nice if all of our beaches could be lifeguarded all year round, but that’s not the case so educate yourself before you go surfing/ swimming, read the information boards on the beaches and avoid surfing by yourself. Surf safely people.

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