What is a rip current?
A rip current is a powerful, narrow channel of fast-moving water that circulates water back to sea after it is pushed ashore by waves. Each wave accumulates water on shore creating seaward pressure. This pressure is released in an area with the least amount of resistance, which is usually the deepest point along the ocean floor. Rip currents also exist in areas where the strength of waves are weakened by objects such as rock jetties, piers, natural reefs, and even large groups of banthers. Rip currents often look like muddy rivers flowing away from shore.
What to look for
These features will alert you to the presence of a rip:
- darker color of sea, indicating deep water
- murky brown water, caused by sand stirred up off the sea bed
- waves breaking further out on both sides of the rip
- debris floating out to sea
- a rippled look, when the water around is more or less calm
Rip currents are sometimes mistakenly called "rip tides" or "undertows". These are misnomers. Rip currents are not directly related with tides and they do not pull people under.
Try to avoid swimming where rip currents are present, but if you become caught in one, swim parallel to the shore until the pull stops and then swim back to shore. If you are unable to return to the beach, tread water and hold your arm out of the water with your fist clenched to seek assistance.
Stay at least 100 feet away from piers and jetties. Rip currents often exist along the side of fixed objects in the water.