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How to Escape a Rip Current

This article details how to escape a deadly ocean rip current.

Rip currents, sometimes (falsely) known as rip tides or undertows, are the leading cause of open water drowning. Rip currents are fast moving currents of out-flowing water capable of carrying unsuspecting swimmers hundreds of yards offshore. Fortunately, for competent swimmers, it is possible to escape a rip current with relative ease. By remaining calm and abiding by the following simple rules, you will drastically reduce your ocean swimming risks. Learning how to escape a rip current is a vital ocean skill that can save your life.

Swim Near a Lifeguard: Common sense dictates that swimming near a lifeguard is one of the safest ways to swim in the ocean. Additionally, it is important to pay attention to lifeguard flags and signals. Often times, lifeguards whistle to warn unsuspecting swimmers about dangerous rip currents.

Identify Rips: If you learn how to spot a rip current you may never need to learn how to escape a rip current. Rip currents are characterized by fast moving, turbid water. Often times waves do not break, or struggle to break, in rips. The water is often a darker color, choppy, and full of foam.

Never Swim Against the Rip: A strong rip current in large surf can be challenging for Olympic level swimmers. Average swimmers should never struggle against a rip, as they will only tire themselves and increase the risk of drowning.

Swim Perpendicular to the Rip: Mainstream media has been telling people to swim parallel to the shore to escape a rip current. This is good advice, but is not 100% accurate because it assumes that all rips flow straight out to sea. This is untrue. Many rip currents form between the beach and the sandbar, and will flow parallel to the beach before heading out to sea. Swim perpendicular to the rip with the wind, or towards the beach, depending on the flow of the rip.

Don’t Panic: Panicking and struggling against the current are paths to disaster. It is very difficult to escape a rip current if you are panicking. Losing your cool is dangerous to yourself and everyone around you. Stay calm, call for help (hopefully to a nearby lifeguard), and swill perpendicular to the rip.

Worst Case Scenario: If all else fails, simply stay afloat and let the rip carry you beyond the surf line. Eventually the rip will die and you will be able to escape the rip current. Once in calm water, wait for help, or slowly swim towards a channel.

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