Rip currents can be considered as one of the deadliest tricks of the ocean. Each year, it kills more people than sharks which is about 100 as compared to the typical global figure of 6 respectively! Essentially, these currents are rivers of the ocean. Rip current is basically a jet stream of water flowing away from the beach at a high speed, some 10 feet per second! They are strong, narrow currents flowing away from the beach and they are strong enough to pull you away from the beach into the water. Even professional swimmers can hardly swim against their speed! However, the one fact about rip currents that matters to us is that it is an avoidable accident-death.

Let's look into the formation of such currents first. Rip currents form in several different ways. Quickly changing wave heights can form such currents as also sandbars from where water is funneled out to the sea. The key ingredient in all rip currents is breaking waves. Rip currents are formed mainly when the waves hit the shores not at an angle, but perpendicularly. Because of this, the waves are caused to become horizontal long shore waves that run parallel along the beach in left and right direction. When two of these long shore currents meet, a rip current is formed. Many factors influence the formation of rip currents, some of which include weather, tides, local variations in beach shapes and how waves break offshore. A windy atmosphere is most influential in the formation of rip currents. It is also possible that some beaches may never have any rip currents and some beaches may frequently have them.

Rip Currents And How To Avoid Them
professional surfers take care of handling this break in the current
professional surfers take care of handling this break in the current

Identifying such currents is the most important step to safety. Precaution is better than cure! The best way to stay safe is to identify certain basic signs of rip currents:

1. Listen to lifeguards or weather forecasts. Living in a technological and scientific age wherein the weather department literally gives out the forecasts regarding the formation of rip currents, we don't need any further assurance of our safety. On beaches too, lifeguards and certain signs regarding oceanic climate constantly keep us updated about any hazard or so.

2. Lookout for gaps between two currents. This otherwise calm and playful portion of water can be a rip current if it occurs in an otherwise choppy sea.A

3. Lookout for discolored water. Rip currents tend to take with them large portions of sand and sediment from the beach. So if you find a patch of discolored water due to excess sediments, know that it is a rip current.

4. Rip currents often form near sandbars, piers, jetties, or groins or anything that sticks out in the sea and can cause a long shore current to flow away from the beach.

Rip Currents And How To Avoid Them
Know rip currents for safer surfing
Know rip currents for safer surfing

These are some of the simplest ways of identifying rip currents. If you might be still caught in one, don't panic and try out any of the following methods to escape:

1. Keep your feet on the bottom as much as possible while swimming in a surf condition.

2. Remain calm! Rip currents don't pull you underwater, they just pull you away from the shore. If you start panicking, it gets all the more difficult to think with a clear head.

3. Regain your footing. If you are in a shallow or weak rip current, try to gain your footing. If that is not possible, don't fight the current. Instead conserve your energy to swim to the shore later. Many people drown precisely because of exhausting themselves by fighting against the current.

4. Call for help immediately if you aren't a good swimmer or if you can't swim at all.A

5. Swim parallel to the shore. Rip currents are like treadmills, to escape one you need to get off it which is by swimming parallel to the shore. Rip currents are no more than 100 feet wide so it is not an impossible task.

6. Float on your back to conserve energy. Rip currents subside after say 90-100 yards in the sea. Till then, you can just relax alone!

Through some amount of precaution and presence of mind, dying due to rip currents is indeed avoidable. In the end, our safety is in our own hands!

Photo Credit: scienceofthesurf.com and noaa.gov