You might never have heard of a rip tide but everyone who uses the beach should know how to identify, escape & survive them.

If you love beach holidays, spending time at the coast or doing water sports this rip tide survival guide is a must-read for all outdoor families, beach lovers, watersports enthusiasts and wild swimmers and might just be the most important thing you ever read.

This is the second article in my things to do at the beach series, full of life-saving advice on how to safely escape a rip tide (rip current) along with details on how to identify one plus a really handy printable (below) to laminate and keep with your wetsuits!

What Is a Rip Tide?

Rip tides (also known as a rip currents or undertow) are a serious coastal hazard for watersports enthusiasts, swimmers and surfers.

The rip current is an area of sea usually without wave activity where a ‘hidden’ current (undertow) is returning the water brought in by waves back out to sea. They can sometimes look choppy, milky or turbulent but are usually darker, calm channels between white water.

How To Identify Rip Currents

Contrary to what you might think, the calmer, darker water between white waves is NOT SAFE, these are the rip currents. I’ll repeat this a lot, it’s really important to remember!

Image of wide sandy beach with white water either side of smooth water in centre
Don’t be fooled into thinking the calm water is safe – it’s a rip current

Rips flow at 1-2 mph but can get up to 4-5 mph (faster than an Olympic swimmer!)

They are not easy to identify so the best UK advice is to use lifeguarded beaches and stay between the flags.

On non-patrolled beaches, a knowledge of where and how rip currents occur could be useful so I’m including this information but unless you are an expert, DON’T GUESS, it is safest not to swim or surf without lifeguards.

Image of beach showing white water at sea's edge with smooth stream of water between
The rip current looks like a safe place to swim but IS NOT

Take a few minutes on arrival at the beach to check out surf conditions.

Identify potential rip current areas and adjust your activities accordingly.

Purple dye in the photo below shows the usual direction of rip movement away from the beach.

Image Of Coastal Beach Showing Rip Tide Current Using Purple Dye In Water
Purple dye in the water showing undertow rip tide action

The Best Rip Tide Escape Advice

Make sure all the family reads this post including the children so EVERYONE knows what to do if they get caught in a rip. It may save a life.

Image showing info graphic of coastal riptides and how to escape them
Coastal rip current movements

If you spot someone being dragged out to sea in a current dial 999 and ask for the Coastguard.

If you are caught in a rip current take these steps to escape and survive: –

DON’T PANIC

– Number 1 tip, try to stay calm. Most rips don’t go very far out to sea so save energy and don’t fight or swim against it.

WADE

– Can you touch the bottom? In a panic you may forget to check. If you can safely stand up try wading while waving your arms to signal distress. If not then..

FLOAT

– This saves energy for the swim back to shore once the rip spits you out. You will also be able to raise an arm to signal for help when floating.

ATTEMPT ESCAPE

– If you have the energy, swim at a right angle to the rip flow to try to clear it (see arrows in the above infographic). If you are exhausted, revert to floating to conserve energy.

WAIT

– The rip should eventually spit you out and you can then swim in a wide loop, diagonally away from the current, back towards the shore. If you don’t have the energy, remain floating, continue signalling and await rescue.

Hopefully this will never happen to you or your family but should the worst ever happen you now know what to do.

Don’t forget to print and laminate your rip current survival guide to keep with your beach kit.

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For more beach safety advice read my ultimate beach safety guide covering how to: –

Call the coastguard
Choose lifeguarded beaches
Recognise beach safety flags
Understand water shock
Check tide times
Check the weather
Safely use inflatables
Escape quicksand or mud
Treat a jellyfish sting
Look after your dog

Happy holidays and be safe in the sea!

Image of Circular Red Sign Stating Water Cliff Mud Emergency Call 999 Coastguard