Rip currents are one of the most common hazards at Australian beaches, and are also one of the main causes of drowning and rescues on surf beaches. When visiting any surf beach for a swim, you need to be aware of rip currents and where they are located.

To make sure that you're safe for your future beach trips, we're going to take a look at what rip currents are, how to spot them, and what to do if you get caught in a rip current. Just remember that if you need support or someone to talk to, our Sonder support team is available 24/7 to chat whenever you need it.

What is a rip current?

Rip currents are fast-flowing currents that occur at beaches with breaking waves where the water flows out in the direction that causes the least resistance.

As the incoming breaking waves cross the sand bar on the beach, the pushed-in water can then easily travel back out to sea through a gap in the aforementioned sand bar. This causes a rip current to form and it can drag unsuspecting swimmers out to sea.

Spotting a rip current

Recognising a rip current is the first step in being able to avoid being caught in one. There are several key signs to keep an eye out for when spotting a rip current, such as:

  • Deeper and or darker water

  • Discoloured water (usually brown due to sand being stirred from the bottom) extending beyond the surf zone

  • Foam on the surface that extends beyond the breaking waves

  • A ripple appearance when the water around is generally calm

  • Debris and/or seaweed floating with the current

  • Waves that are breaking larger and further out on both sides of the rip.

How do I reduce my risk of getting caught by a rip?

The best way to avoid getting caught in a rip is to learn how to spot them and choosing swimming spots that aren't close to one.

It's important to always swim in areas designated safe for swimming by lifeguards as they can help you if you're ever in trouble. In countries like Australia and New Zealand, safe areas are marked by a pair of red and yellow flags.

What do I do if I get caught in a rip?

Getting caught in a rip current is terrifying, but don't worry because we're going to explain ways to escape it. If you are caught in a rip, here are the important things to keep in mind:

  • Do not panic and remain calm.

  • Do not swim against the rip. Swimming against a rip current is the worst thing you can do and you'll tire yourself out.

  • If you are a poor or non-swimmer, or if you're exhausted, then you should go with the rip, float to conserve energy, and raise your arm and call out for help. If the beach is patrolled, lifeguards will spot you and come help.

  • If you are a strong swimmer, swim parallel to the shore or angle your body diagonally across the current, returning to the shore through the breaking waves.

If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.

Information sourced from: Beach Safe, Surf Life Saving NSW, and Sydney Morning Herald

Image credit: Gregory Rohan at Flickr

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.

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