Beach Safty How To Handle Rip Current

Each year, hundreds of ocean bathers suffer serious near drowning or death due to their ignorance about rip currents, a phenomenon found on wave-swept beaches all over the world including Costa Rica . Ironically, they can be fun if properly understood yet they are responsible for 80 percent of ocean drowning, or, four out of five.

A rip current is a surplus of water put ashore by waves, that finds a channel to drain and reach equilibrium. All rip currents have, three parts: the feeder current, the neck, and the head. The feeder current is water moving parallel to the beach. You know you're in one when you notice, after a few minutes, that your friends on the beach have moved down 30 to 50 yards, yet you thought you were standing still.

At a depression in the ocean floor, the water turns out to sea. This can occur in knee- to waist-deep water, where the "neck" begins. The neck, which is very swift, can carry a swimmer out to sea at three to six miles per hour, faster than a strong swimmer's rate of two to four miles per hour. It's like being in a river, and can move a person 100 yards in just a moment. It is typical to experience panic when caught in the neck, and it is here that most drownings occur.

The rip current loses its strength just beyond the breakers, dissipating its energy and eventually delivering the swimmer to relatively calm waters. This area, known as the "head", may appear to have a mushroom shape from the air, as debris picked up by the current is dissipated.

Here, the water is deep, but calm. The swimmer can get back to shore by moving parallel to the beach in the direction of the bend of the current, and then back to shore at a 45-degree angle rather than straight in, to avoid getting caught in the feeder, current again. (See diagram).

As a safety precaution, before you enter the ocean, throw a buoyant object like a coconut or a stick into the water and watch where the current carries it, for this is the direction you will have to go in before you can get back to shore. There is definitely one direction that is better than the other.

The weak swimmer should call for help as soon as he notices that a current is moving him and making it difficult for him to walk in towards land. Most drowning victims are caught ,in water just above waist level.


When a person realizes he can't walk directly in, he should turn and walk sideways, leaping towards the beach with every wave, to let the water "push" him towards shore.

Once a person is no longer touching bottom and in a rip, he should not fight against die current in a vain effort to get back to shore, for this is like "swimming up a river" and will sap his strength.

Floating conserves energy. The human body is buoyant, even more so in salt water. Everyone should learn to float, because every minute that you can salvage gives someone the opportunity to make a rescue.

There is a crashing surf that can throw you off balance. One of the signals of someone who's in danger is one who turns his back to the crashing surf. Once off. balance, a swimmer is unable to get traction on the ocean floor and can be dragged out four or five feet into deeper water with each swell. After a few swells he may be in over his head and it becomes even more important to float arching his back, head back, nose pointing in the air.

If water gets into the lungs of the person in trouble, he sinks out of sight, feeding the myth of a fearsome "whirlpool" that pulls one down.

There are four different types of rip currents: permanent, fixed, flash, and traveling.


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