Rip Current Safety for Kids
How to Stay Safe Around Rip Currents
Rip currents, sometimes called rip tides or undertows, account for about 80 percent of lifeguard rescues at surf beaches, and they claim about 100 lives each year in the United States alone. They can occur at any beach]with breaking surf, which means they are present not only in oceans throughout the world but also in large lakes. Despite the number of deaths attributed to rip currents, you have a good chance of surviving one if you know what to do. Better yet, learn how to recognize dangerous conditions and identify a rip current when it appears, so you can avoid it entirely.
Identifying Warning Signs
Check the forecast.In the U.S., posts rip current predictions for select beaches. In most other countries, the weather forecast near popular beach destinations will include a surf forecast. Rip currents can appear even on a calm day, but they are more dangerous when waves are high.
- Distant hurricanes can contribute to "flash rip currents," short-lived and unpredictable events.Hurricane warning centers may post rip current warnings for some areas, even if they do not experience any other effects of the storm.
- Consider checking the tide forecast as well. Rip currents tend to be strongest within a couple hours before and after a low tide.
Pay attention to posted warnings.When you arrive at the beach, look for posted warning signs. If you are a weak swimmer or if there are no lifeguards on duty, you may want to avoid the water entirely on high risk days. Rip currents can occur in any conditions, but the warning signs give you a good estimate of risk. Some warnings are posted using this international flag system:
- Yellow: moderate surf or currents. Weak swimmers discouraged from entering water.
- Red: strong surf or currents. All swimmers discouraged.
- Two red flags: beach closed to swimmers.
- Red and white checkers: emergency evacuation.
- Two flags, each one half red and half yellow: the area between these flags is supervised by lifeguards. Swimmers should not leave these bounds.
Talk to the lifeguard.Lifeguards may know where rip currents are likely to form, and whether there have been any today. Don't hesitate to ask for advice.
- Lifeguards may also issue warnings when a rip current is sighted, or ask swimmers to steer clear of a dangerous area. Pay attention to them.
Know how to identify a rip current.There are a number of ways you can identify a possible rip current without actually getting in it. A rip current is a relatively narrow channel of water, seldom more than 50–100 feet (15.2–30.5 m) in width, usually running from the beach straight out to the sea. Since you cannot see the whole shape of the current from the shore, look for a streak of water with one or more of these suspicious characteristics:
- A dirty or muddy appearance from churning up the seabed. You might sea seaweed or debris moving rapidly away from shore.
- An unusually calm area of water, including a gap in the line of breaking waves.
- Water with a different color than its surroundings, or a foamy surface.
- Lower waterline on shore at that spot.
Look up example images online.One easy way to familiarize yourself with a rip tide is to look up videos and images of rip tides. Look for perspectives from the shore for a more accurate idea of what to look for.
Stay away from structures that extend away from the beach.Permanent rip currents often develop near piers and jetties, so try to stay at least 100 feet (30.5 m) away from these structures. Long-lasting seasonal rip currents can also form around natural sandbars and rocky outcroppings that extend perpendicular from the beach.
Improving Survival Odds
Learn how to swim.It should go without saying, but learning to swim is the single most important thing you can do to stay safe in water. Remember, swimming in surf is very different than swimming in a pool or lake, so don't test your limits if you're not accustomed to surf conditions.
Swim only with a lifeguard present.Rip currents can occur in the water near any beach where breaking waves are present, including on large lakes. While it's a good idea to avoid swimming without a lifeguard nearby, it's especially important in these bodies of water.
Swim with others.Swimming alone is risky, since no one will be able to help you in an emergency. Swim with a buddy or at least near other people.
Respond safely if you see a rip current catch someone.Many people have drowned attempting to rescue another rip current victim. A lifeguard may be trained to swim into a rip current, but only the strongest and most experienced swimmers should attempt it. Instead, throw any floating object to the person so they can hold on and wait for rescue. Notify a lifeguard immediately or call emergency services if a lifeguard is not present.
Learn how to survive a rip current.While rip currents are usually avoidable, you should still learn what to do if you get caught in one. Read this article for full instructions, or start with this quick summary:
- Never swim directly against the current. This will only exhaust you.
- Traditional advice tells swimmers to swim parallel to shore, to escape the narrow channel of the rip current. Everyone agrees this is a good tactic for strong swimmers to try.
- Recent, controversial research suggests that weak swimmers may have better odds if they relax and focus on staying afloat. The rip current will either take you to calmer waters, or circle back to shore.
QuestionHow far can rip currents take you?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerMost spread out and become weaker right after the surf zone (the area where waves break). At their strongest, rip currents can take you hundreds of feet past that.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if I get swept out too far?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerA strong swimmer can usually return to shore even if they reach the end of the rip current, assuming they do not exhaust themselves by trying to fight it. Swim out of the path of the rip current, then diagonally away from it back to shore. If you are not a good swimmer, your best bet may be to conserve energy, tread water, and wait for help (or for the rip current to circle back to shore, which sometimes happens). Consider wearing a flotation device so you can stay afloat and wait for rescue in an emergency.Thanks!
QuestionWould I ever swim in the current so it doesn't exhaust me?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIf you find yourself swimming in open water and caught in a current, the wisest thing to do would be to let it take you out until it is weak enough for you to swim out of. Then you can swim back to shore. This is safer than fighting it, because it helps conserve energy which reduces the risk of you being fatally harmed.Thanks!
QuestionWhat is the current CPR method used to save a life?wikiHow ContributorCommunity Answer30 chest compressions and 2 breaths.Thanks!
- Pay close attention to children when at the beach. Children are unlikely to recognize rip currents and can easily be swept away even in weak currents. They're also more likely to panic if the current begins to take them out to sea.
- Wearing polarized sunglasses cuts out glare on the water, makes it easier to watch for signs of a rip current.
- Anundertoworrip tideis not the same thing as a rip current.Rip currentis the most accurate description of the phenomenon. The termundertow,in particular, is misleading: rip currents drag people out to sea, but they don't drag them underwater.
Video: How to survive beach rip currents?
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