The dangers of rips and how to avoid them

An early morning swimmer, Port Beach, North Fremantle. Picture: Jon Bassett
An early morning swimmer, Port Beach, North Fremantle. Picture: Jon Bassett

RIP tides are a dangerous phenomenon that can prove fatal for those inexperienced in spotting or dealing with them.

We tell you how to avoid them and what to do if you’re caught in one.

THE BASICS

Surf Lifesaving Australia says rips are the number one hazard on Australian beaches and are responsible for countless rescues and an average of 21 drownings a year.

Rips occur as water from a wave that has broken flows back down the beach and into the sea.

HOW RIPS WORK

When a wave breaks on the beach and loses energy against the slope of the sand, gravity causes the water to flow back towards the sea. The water flows into deeper channels in the surf zone and can continue to flow away from the shoreline, forming a strong rip current.

Anyone swimming in a rip, or even standing waist-deep in the current, can be dragged out to sea with it. Those who fight the current, or do not have a flotation device, risk drowning.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR:

* Deeper darker water

* Fewer breaking waves

* Sometimes sandy-coloured water that extends beyond the surf zone

* Debris or seaweed

Surf Lifesaving Australia says its sometimes easier to see where the waves are breaking consistently. A rip is likely to exist where the break is not consistent. Avoid rips by swimming between the flags on a patrolled beach.

IF YOU’RE CAUGHT:

Stay calm, float and wave for help. You might escape the rip by swimming parallel to the beach. Some rips may have a circular pattern that may return you to a nearby sandbar.

Videos, diagrams here: http://beachsafe.org.au/surf-ed/ripcurrents

Source: Surf Lifesaving Australia