Rip currents are a major cause of accidental drowning on beaches all across the world. In the UK over 60% of RNLI lifeguard incidents involve rip currents.
But what are they and how can you spot one?
Rip currents sound complicated but are essentially fast flowing bodies of water that can drag people and debris away from the shoreline and out to deeper water.
Rip current flow speeds are typically 1-2 mph but they can reach 4.5mph. That’s faster than an Olympic swimmer.
Generally speaking, the bigger the waves the stronger the currents, though don't underestimate the power of the water on any occasion.
Rips can be very difficult to spot, but sometimes can be identified by a channel of churning, choppy water or debris on the sea’s surface. They're most common on sandy surf beaches, and can also form around permanent structures in the sea, like piers or sea walls. So please bear this in mind if you swim close to these.
Watch this video to learn more about rip currents.
The best way to avoid rips is to choose a lifeguarded beach and always swim between the red and yellow flags. Lifeguards are trained to identify rips and mark out a safe swim zone based on the sea conditions. They can also spot you more easily between the flags, should something go wrong. To find out more, see our guide to staying safe at the beach.
If you get caught in a rip:
Don’t try to swim against it or you’ll get exhausted.
If you can stand, wade don’t swim.
If you can, swim parallel to the shore until free of the rip and then head for shore.
Always raise your hand and shout for help.