Understanding Rip Currents

Summertime is swimming time - especially in the parts of the country where winter seems to dictate activities for most of the year. If the sun’s out, the water is fair game. And even when the sun isn’t out… well, sometimes you just have to take the plunge.

 Cliff Diving

While pools have their purpose and pleasure - getting out into nature and exploring the waters of lakes and oceans can add a fun aspect of discovery and adventure to swimming. They can also add an element of danger of which everyone should be aware - for their own safety, and also for the safety of others. Those who routinely swim in large bodies of water such as the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Ocean, and the Atlantic Ocean have probably heard the terms “current” and “undertow” but what these terms often refer to are rip currents or “rips” for short. 

We want to make this 100% clear - RIP CURRENTS DO NOT ONLY OCCUR IN THE OCEAN. Tens of thousands of people in the US are rescued from rip currents every year, with over 100 drownings. And some of these occur in the Great Lakes - not just out in the salty water.

So what exactly is a rip current? We’ve all stood on the shore and watched waves roll in - but what comes in must go out again. As waves bring water in, narrow channels running back out into open water form between the waves. The water in these channels can move faster than any human swimmer and are capable of quickly washing a person far from the shore. While difficult to spot when in the water, rip currents can be seen from the right vantage point. Stand on the shore and watch the pattern of waves breaking to see where the water is moving. The water coming in on the waves will move parallel to the shore before joining the currents heading back to open water. These are the areas to watch and be cautious around.

What do you do if you get caught in a rip current? DO NOT attempt to swim directly back to shore. Fighting the current is one of the quickest ways to tire yourself out. Instead, swim parallel to the shore in order to get out of the current - then swim back to shore. 

Swimming is a fun activity and a great part of a healthy lifestyle - stay informed and keep it a safe activity as well!

Want to learn more about rip currents? Check out the videos below!

Rip Current Science

How to Survive Rip Currents

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