Warning about bad rip currents in the sea

In the past week of September 2013 there have been seven emergencies that NSRI has responded to for people caught in rip currents around the country.

Two children and two young adults  lost their lives in the last three days in rip currents.

Below are a set of guidelines release by Sea Rescue’s WaterWise Academy, which teaches children about basic water safety. 

Rip currents are able to develop anywhere that there are breaking waves, these “rivers” of current produced by water draining from the beach and back out to sea happen all the the time. Often rip currents move slowly enough to barely be detected. 

But given the right circumstances of waves and beach profile, they can develop into currents moving at speeds of up to 2 metres per second – faster than any of us can swim. Ranging in size from just a few metres to hundreds of metres, their pull can be to just outside the breaking waves to over two hundred metres from shore.

How to spot a rip current: As with all risks, avoiding rips altogether is safest.  Rip currents are not always visually detectable but stronger rip currents give some telltale signs.

  • Water through a surf zone that is a different color than the surrounding water
  • A break in the incoming pattern of waves
  • seaweed or debris moving out through the surf zone
  • Isolated turbulent and choppy water in the surf zone

Often, the best resource to help you avoid rip currents – not surprisingly – are the lifesavers.

Beach goers should swim only where lifesavers are on duty, and if they are not on duty do not swim.

If avoidance fails: If you are caught in a rip current the most important thing to do is to stay calm and relax.  You are not going to win a fight with the ocean.  Swim slowly and conservatively parallel to the shoreline or relax and let it carry you out past the breakers until it slacks.

Contrary to myth – rip currents are not “undertow,” which a misleading term. They will not pull you under the water.  

As long as you can tread water or float you will be safe until you can escape the flow and head back to the beach.  When you head back in, do so at an angle to the shoreline.  Maintain a slow and relaxed pace until you reach the shore or assistance arrives.  If you are swimming at a beach where lifesavers are on duty ─ and you should be ─ they will most likely have seen you and will be on their way out to help (or be watching carefully).

Other tips:

  • Talk to the lifesavers about local hazards before getting in the water. Make sure that you read warning signage on the beach.
  • NEVER swim alone.
  • There is nothing wrong with making young children wear approved life jackets to play in the surf. That doesn’t mean you can leave them alone – but it will make them safer.
  • Swim only on beaches where lifesavers are on duty.  That has been said twice for a reason.
  • For more information please go to www.nsri.org.za
  • Please share this on FaceBook or retweet on twitter or email to as many friends as possible .. to assist the NSRI in getting this message across to everyone.

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