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How To Escape a Rip Current

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Updated January 24, 2014

Escaping Rip Currents

Rip currents can form wherever there are breaking waves.

Courtesy of the NWS/NOAA

Rip currents are the most dangerous hazard for beach swimmers. Rip currents form when water is channeled away from the beach and out to sea. They can form whenever there are breaking waves and are difficult to identify. These tips from the National Weather Service will help you escape a rip current alive and well.

Difficulty: Hard

Time Required: Don't panic, take as much time as you need

Here's How:

  1. If caught in a rip current, don't panic. You may not realize you are in a rip current until you are suddenly further away from shore than you realized. Remain calm and conserve energy, you will need it to swim to safety.

     

  2. Don't swim toward the shore. That is like swimming upstream in a river and you may become tired long before you reach the beach. Instead, swim parallel to the shore to escape the rip current. Once you feel you are out of the current, turn towards shore. Use landmarks to help you determine if you are still in the current.

     

  3. If you cannot swim out of the rip current, calmly float or tread water until you are out of the current. Exhaustion is your biggest enemy, don't fight a rip current. When you are out, swim toward shore.

     

  4. If you can't make it all the way to shore, stop swimming, face the beach, wave your hands and shout to attract attention.

     

Tips:

  1. If you see someone caught in a rip current, get a lifeguard.

    If a lifeguard is unavailable, call 911. Shout instructions to the victim on how to escape and follow the tips for rescuing a drowning victim.

    Be extremely careful, many would-be rescuers drown trying to save a victim trapped in a rip current.

     

  2. Learn to identify rip currents. This may be tough for the untrained eye, but according to the NWS, wearing polarized sunglasses makes it easier to see the signs of a rip current. Look for:
    • a channel of churning or choppy water
    • an area where the water is a distincly different color
    • a line of foam, seaweed, or debris heading out to sea
    • a break in the wave pattern

     

  3. Follow beach safety tips whenever swimming in the ocean.

     

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