How do you survive a rip current? The best advice is – DO NOT FIGHT IT.
But you need to know what to do instead, and there are specific ways to handle being caught in one.
Kids of the Wild has put together a printable family guide to keep in your beach bag.
⚠️ Make sure all the family reads this so EVERYONE knows what to do if caught in a rip current or rip tide. It may save a life. ⚠️
All beach users need to know how to identify and escape a rip current or rip tide (riptide) so if you love beach holidays, coast or water sports this rip tide survival guide might be the most important thing you ever read.
It’s the second article from my things to do at the beach series, full of life-saving advice to ensure family safety on holiday.
What Is a Rip Tide?
Rip tides (also known as a rip currents or undertow) can be a serious coastal hazard.
A rip current is an area of sea that is usually without wave activity where a ‘hidden’ current (undertow) is returning the water brought in by waves back out to sea.
They sometimes look choppy, milky or turbulent but are usually darker, calm channels between white water.
How To Identify a Rip Current
Contrary to what many people think, the calmer, darker water between white waves is NOT SAFE; these smoother areas of sea are often the rip currents. I’ll repeat this a lot, it’s really important to remember! The photo below is a great example of an area that looks calm but could actually sweep you out to sea without warning.
Rip currents generally flow at 1-2 mph but can get up to 4-5 mph (faster than an Olympic swimmer!)
UK Rip Tide Advice
As rip tides are not easy to identify, 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 but unless you are an expert, DON’T GUESS. It is safest not to swim or surf without lifeguards.
Here’s another good example of a calm smooth sea that is actually a rip current flowing out to sea at speed.
Family Beach Safety
- Stay safe, swim with lifeguards where possible
- If there are no lifeguard patrols, take a few minutes on arrival to check out surf conditions
- Identify potential rip current areas and adjust your activities accordingly
Here’s another rip current. Purple dye in the photo below shows the usual direction of rip movement away from this beach in Australia.
The Best Rip Tide Escape Advice
If you spot someone being dragged out to sea in a current dial 999 and ask for the Coastguard.
The below image is an example of coastal rip current movements and how to swim out of them.
Coastal rip current movements
How to Survive a Rip Tide or Rip Current
If you are caught in a rip current take these steps to escape and survive: –
Firstly, DON’T PANIC
– Number 1 tip, try to stay calm. It’s not easy so floating on your back until your breathing calms is a good idea.
DON’T FIGHT IT
– Most rips don’t go very far out to sea so save energy and don’t fight or swim against it.
TRY TO WADE
– In the panic you may forget to check. Can you touch the bottom? If you can safely stand up, try wading while waving your arms to signal distress. If not then..
– 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.
– Only if you have the energy, attempt to 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.
– 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.
Free Rip Tide Survival Guide
Don’t forget to print and laminate your rip current survival guide to keep with your beach kit.
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More Beach Safety Advice
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
Wild wishes for happy family holidays and don’t forget to be safe in the sea!
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