What is a rip current?

A rip current also known as a “rip” is a kind of water current that is found near beach fronts. A rip refers to the narrow strong current of water that flows away from the beach. You can find a rip current anywhere there are breaking waves. It is very difficult to predict where the rip will form.

A rip current is formed when breaking waves force water into the shore and forms together creating a feeder current which flows perpendicular to the beach front. The feeder current will then find an area that it can head back out to sea, this is called the neck. A neck tends to be where the water is slightly deeper and is where the flow of water is most rapid. Once the rapid water in the neck reaches a point back out to sea beyond the breaking waves the water loses its power and disperses, this is known as the “head.” Some of this dispersing water may then be taken back into the shore.

The rapid water that you find in these “rips” is very dangerous and is the leading cause of lifeguard rescues. People often try to swim against the rip and find themselves struggling.

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How to Identify a Rip

It can be difficult to identify a rip current. However there are a few signs to watch out for that will help you to make an informed decision. Here are a few points to keep an eye out for:

  • A channel of choppy water
  • Frothy water that has been churned up and heading back out to sea.
  • Different colour of water slightly further out than the surf zone.
  • Broken wave pattern of incoming waves to the shore.

A rip current may show all of the above or none of them at all. That is what makes them very difficult to predict. On some beaches the lifeguards will put dye in the water to try and identify where potential rip currents are. This then means they can move the swimming zone to a safer location on the beach.

Not matter what activity you are doing whether you are simply swimming or on a rowing boat it is useful to be able identify a rip current and avoid struggling against a rip.

If you find yourself unsure of whether or not there is a rip tide, make sure to ask the lifeguard and they will gladly help you out.