How to escape from a rip

Approximately 17,000 rips occur around Australia at any given time, yet only four percent of beaches are currently patrolled.

Riptides claim over 100 victims a year. Here’s an app that can help you spot a rip. Fully understanding rips will help you survive if you get caught in one.

Waves have an uncontrolled push and pull routine. As a wave breaks on the shore, water piles up and tries to find its way back out to sea. While doing so it may not go back over the reef or sandbar, instead taking the path of least resistance. This creates a narrow funnel of fast-moving water that extends offshore, perpendicular to the shoreline, known as a rip.

Types of rips

There are 3 types of rips:

  • Flash rip: This current can form suddenly and vanish just as fast due to decreasing water levels or increasing wave heights.
  • Fixed rip: This funnel is usually formed by the wave pressure breaking in the same spot for a long time, eventually making gaps in sandbars. These rips can stay in the same place for days, weeks, or even months.
  • Permanent Rip: This type of rip is usually formed because of permanent obstacles such as a reef. Rips like these are particularly dangerous because you can be forced against these obstacles if you get caught.

Prevent getting caught

  • Before heading out, check the beach conditions. The higher the wave forecast the more likely there will be rips. Low tides spell danger.
  • Bring a flotation device.
  • When you first get to the beach, ask the lifeguard for information on places to avoid swimming.
  • Always swim near a lifeguard.
  • Only swim between marked flags.
  • Don’t swim on unpatrolled beaches.

Spotting a rip

Surveys show that 70 percent of people can’t spot rips and two out of three people who think they can get it wrong.

The good news is that there’s now an app that will help spot rips for you. Download the Beachsafe App to help you identify the danger zone.

But its still important to know how to identify a rip. Choose an elevated position, like a dune line or beach access and look for these signs:

  • A channel of churning, foaming, or choppy water.
  • Floating debris moving steadily seaward.
  • Deeper dark colour than the surrounding water due to sand disturbance.
  • A break in the incoming wave pattern.
  • Water flowing out to sea at an angle to the shoreline.
  • A rippled surface surrounded by smooth water.

How to escape from a rip

If you do find yourself stuck in a rip, here are a few survival tips:

  • Don’t panic. Keep calm and remind yourself that most rips will eventually dissipate, generally within 15 to 30 metres of the shoreline.
  • Don’t try to swim against the rip. Most riptide deaths are drownings from fear and exhaustion.
  • Attempt to swim parallel to the shore. Rip currents are typically only 5 to 30 metres wide. After successfully exiting, swim at an angle away from the rip towards the shore.
  • Go with the flow. Float on your back and go with the current. There’s about an 80 percent chance it’ll take you back to a sand bar.
  • Raise an arm to seek help.
  • Always let a lifeguard make a rip current rescue. They need to take control of the situation using their training, so do as they say or you may accidentally pull them into the same situation.