What is a rip current?
In simple terms a rip current is a strong, narrow stream of water that usually originates at the beach and continues beyond the breaking waves. In some cases rip currents may end only 50 feet from shore but in extreme cases, rip currents may extend over 300 feet from shore.
A rip current is created as a result of interactions between wind, waves, tides and
sometimes offshore storm events.
A rip current is also created in response to the ocean’s bottom topography and the
formation of sandbars. Sometimes a rip current is caused by man-made objects
extending into the surf zone, e.g. a pier or jetty.
The strength varies dramatically. In some cases a rip current can be relatively slow and weak while in other cases, a rip current may reach speeds of over eight feet per second.
This speed makes it impossible for even the strongest swimmer to swim against.
Spot the rip current.
Rip currents are sometimes difficult to spot. However, with the aid of some basic information and a little practice, even a lay person can learn how to identify and avoid being caught in a rip current. Some of the rip current indicators include the following:
Choppy or “excited” water that is located in a channel.
Flotsam (debris) usually moving away from the beach.
Discolored or murky water allowing for the identification of a distinct channel (neck) that terminates offshore.
Rip currents and rip tides.
Rip currents are not to be confused with rip tides.
Rip currents although influenced by tidal action are not caused by tides.
Rip tides on the other hand are the result of tides and the egress and ingress of large volumes of water flowing through inlets, estuaries and bays.
Two types of rip currents: temporary and permanent.
Temporary rip currents are the most common and may form on any beach. They are usually short lived, but can be very dangerous. Some temporary rip currents migrate down the beach in the direction of the long shore current while other temporary rip currents are ephemeral, quickly forming and quickly dissipating. Sometimes these are called “flash” rips.
Permanent rip currents are usually associated with a manmade object such as a pier or jetty and sometimes with naturally occurring geological features such as channel in a coral reef.