Hidden Danger at the Shoreline
Going to the beach and relaxing should be high on everyones agenda, why else would you be interested in a Beach Hut in Bournemouth, but are you Beach Safe? What is your biggest concern, Sunburn, Jelly Fish, Weever Fish or a Rip Current? We want people to enjoy our beautiful coastline, but make sure they do it safely. In the UK RNLI lifeguards report that rip currents are responsible for two-thirds of all water based incidents that they respond to.
“If you spot anyone in difficulty on the coast ring 999 and ask for the Coastguard.
What is a RIP Current?
A rip current, sometimes refered to as a rip is a current which occus near beaches with breaking waves. It can often be hard to see and can be recognised by a ripple on the top of the water that heads out to sea. The rip current is the strong and narrow current of water moving away from the shore cutting through any breaking waves like a river running out to sea.
How to spot a RIP Current
- One of the best visual identifiers of a rip current is to look out for gaps between the waves. The calmer gap between waves may look safer for you to play without worry about waves washing over your head but the small area of calm water in an otherwise choppy sea is often a rip current.
- Look out for discolored water near the shore. Rip currents tend to drag large amounts of sand and sediment back out to sea with them, so many rip currents are easily identified by a noticeable jet of crud in the water extending away from the shore.
- Rip currents are also common in areas with sand bars (both surface and submerged), piers, jetties, groins, and anything else that sticks out from the beach that could catch a longshore current and cause it to start flowing away from shore.
Rip currents do not pull you under, rather they pull you away from the shore. Rip currents can appear even on a calm day, but they are more dangerous when waves are high. Not all rip currents look the same and although some are well formed, most are difficult to see. That said there are a couple of visual cues to look out for: Calm water in the middle of white-capped waves is most likely a rip current.
Rip currents are prevalent around piers and breakwaters (like sandbars). Rip currents form between sandbars and manmade-structures as the trapped water escapes. This creates a strong, narrow current flowing outward from the beach to the sea. Rip currents are not the same as rip tides or undercurrents.
TIPS: If you are caught in a rip current, stay calm and don't fight the current. Swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current. Once you are free, turn and swim toward shore. If you can't swim to the shore, float or tread water until you are free of the rip current and then head toward shore.
To break the grip of the rip:
- don’t fight it or panic.
- Swim to the left or right (swimming parallel to the shoreline). Never try to swim against the current.
- Once you have broken free, swim back to shore.
- If you can’t break free, tread water and try to get someones attention. Note that rip currents usually do not go out too far from shore and weaken the further out from shore you are.
- If you see a person or a pet caught in a rip current immediately get help from a lifeguard or coast guard. Don’t attempt to rescue them yourself as you may get swept up in the rip current too.
TIPS: Sandbars are by far the most common cause of rip currents, creating variations in water depth (and therefore wave breaking) along the beach. Other important causes of variations in wave breaking along a beach include: refraction effects of reefs/shoals/canyons offshore of the beach; sheltering effects of headlands, rocks or coastal structures; and the combination of waves travelling from different directions.
Rip currents are most commonly found on sandy surf beaches that have sandbars (large shallow regions) with deeper channels between them (rip channels). Collectively, such topography is referred to as bar/rip morphology.