Everyone has heard of rip currents and many people know, in theory, how they work & how to get out of them but it isn't black & white. Taking a few minutes to learn about the mechanics of a Rip Current and how to rescue yourself and/or someone else can make the difference between a great day at the beach and a tragedy. Take a look at the image below then scroll down to read more.
Rip currents occur anywhere there is a deeper spot in the water with shallower spots on either side. As waves surge towards shore and push water towards the beach that water needs to be able to go back out. Shallow sandbars create resistance to that water being able to recede & with continued pressure from the water, eventually a break in the sandbar will occur creating a deeper channel for water to funnel out. This narrow channel will have a strong current of water that can and will pull the strongest of swimmers out through it. Beachgoers get into trouble when they try to swim against this current and get tired - contrary to popular opinion rip currents DO NOT pull you DOWN. If you find yourself being pulled out in a rip current the most important thing to do is RELAX! You won't be pulled out to the middle of the ocean but it's important to remember that you will not be able to swim in against the current no matter how good a swimmer you are! Simply pick a spot down the beach and swim towards it, parallel to the shore. You will swim yourself out of the rip current & then be able to swim to shore. Take your time, don't panic and be sure to get good breaths of air to fill your lungs while swimming.
If you notice a friend or family member caught in a rip current coach them from shore rather than going in after them. Send someone else to get a lifeguard to help and encourage the swimmer to swim sideways (parallel to shore), take their time, don't panic, and remind them that you're keeping an eye on them!
Rip currents can happen anywhere there is a lot of water moving around and can occur suddenly at beaches with sandy bottoms. Surfers are often a good source of knowledge on rip currents & should also be summoned for help - especially if a lifeguard isn't available.