How to Avoid and Survive Rip Currents

By Betsy Crick


Rip currents are powerful, fast-moving channels of water – up to 8 feet per second – that typically flow from the shoreline to beyond the area where waves break. They can form on any beach or lake shore where waves are breaking, often near sandbars, jetties and piers.

Rip currents are capable of dragging even the strongest of swimmers far away from the shore, causing distress and panic.

Where should I look for rip currents?

Rip currents most typically form at low spots or breaks in sandbars, and also near structures such as groins, jetties and piers. Rip currents can occur at any beach with breaking waves, and can be difficult for the average beachgoer to identify. Look for any of these clues:

  • Channel of churning, choppy water
  • Area having a notable difference in water color
  • Line of foam, seaweed, or debris moving steadily seaward
  • Break in the incoming wave pattern

How to survive a rip current?

Never swim alone.  If in doubt, don’t go out!  If you get caught in a rip current, try to stay calm and:

  • Don’t fight the current
  • Relax and float to conserve energy
  • Do NOT try to swim directly to shore. Swim parallel to the shoreline until you escape the current’s pull.  When free from the pull of the current, swim at an angle away from the current toward shore.
  • If you feel you can’t reach shore, relax, face the shore, and call or wave for help.

For more information, please visit the National Weather Service.

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