Nobody is stronger than a rip
If you get caught this summer, remember the three R’s
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Who doesn’t love spending their summer at the beach? There’s nothing better than loading up the car and heading to the beach for the day with your family or mates.
While a trip to the sea can be packed with fun, it can also be dangerous. Aside from sunburn and jellyfish, one of the most dangerous things you have to look out for when in the water is a rip current.
Rips are a huge risk for New Zealand beach goers and are the biggest cause of rescues. Many people think when they’re caught in a rip that they’re strong enough to out swim it, but swimming against a rip is a race nobody can win.
A massive 80% of Surf Life Saving NZ rescues are associated with swimmers caught in rips. To make their jobs easier, it’s important we learn how to recognise a rip before stepping into one.
Rips are currents caused by complex interactions between the sea (incoming and breaking waves) and the shape of the sea bed. As waves travel from deep to shallow water, they eventually break near the shoreline resulting in currents that flow offshore and along the coast.
There are several different types of rip currents – some occupy channels between sandbanks or against headlands and structures and are relatively persistent in location for days, weeks or longer.
In general, the larger and more intense the wave breaking, the stronger the rip current flow will be. But never underestimate the power of any water.
Can you spot a rip? Rip currents provide visual cues for you to identify potential hazard areas before getting in the water.
Gaps between the waves. The calm gap may look safe to swim but a small patch of calm water in an otherwise choppy sea is often a rip current.
Regions of deeper, darker water with less wave breaking activity between areas of white water; think of them as rivers of the sea.
Rip currents are also common in areas with sand bars (both surface and submerged), piers, jetties and anything else that sticks out from the beach that could catch a longshore current and cause it to start flowing away from shore.
A ripple pattern on the sand beneath your feet in the water
If you’re unsure about conditions ask the nearest Lifeguard otherwise, stay out.
Stay calm, relax and float. The rip current will not pull you under the water and is just taking you for a ride offshore.
Try to fight the urge to swim back to shore against the current; this will use up energy that you need to stay afloat before help arrives. Most people can float for a lot longer than they can swim!
Signal for help by putting your hand up to attract attention from lifeguards, surfers or someone on the beach who can get help.
Remain floating until the current weakens. Many rips will circulate and bring you back into shallower waters closer to the shore where you may be able to stand.
When the current has subsided, and only if you are sure you can swim to the nearest point on the shore, should you attempt to swim to safety.
For more advice about having fun and staying safe on the beach, head on over to Surf Life Saving New Zealand.
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