Thursday, November 29, 2012

Survive a Rip Current

Ocean waves and currents can trap you, dragging you out to sea. Three family members died as they attempted to save their dog that was swept out to sea while chasing a stick playfully tossed into the surf. 

The 16-year-old boy was the first to race into the ocean to try to save his dog from the high surf. The father, seeing the danger his son was in as he fought through 8 to 10-foot waves, went in after him. The boy managed to struggle back to the beach, but when he realized that his dad was still out in the surf looking for him, both he and his mother went into the water to try to save the man.

The waves and currents were too strong for them. Rescuers were able to retrive the mother's body, but it was too late. Eventually, the father's body washed up on shore. As I write this, the Coast Guard is still searching for the teenager.

Ironically, the dog managed to get back to shore on his own.

There is something to be learned from all this. Water on the move is powerful. It doesn't take much current to overpower a swimmer. Even a very powerful swimmer cannot fight a current very long. Eventually, exhaustion sets in, and then you're at the whim of the ocean, and you're too weak to save yourself.

Rip currents are caused by the water that has rushed ashore as waves, turning around and heading back out to sea. The worst rip currents happen when an offshore sandbar is breached, leaving a funnel for the receding water to channel through. When that happens, the outgoing current becomes extremely strong, sweeping anyone caught in it straight out to sea, away from the shoreline.

If you're ever caught in a rip current, the best way to survive is to simply relax and allow the current to carry you out. This sounds counterintuitive, because the farther you get from the beach, the more you start to fear that you're going to be carried to the middle of the ocean. The natural tendency is to start swimming as hard as possible against the current, trying to make it back to shore.


All that will get you is exhausted. You won't be able to make headway against the current. You'll end up drowning, after you've worn yourself out and can't swim anymore.

Allow the current to carry you. Eventually it will weaken, as it gets farther from shore, and you'll stop drifting out. That's when it's time to start swimming. But rather than trying to swim directly back to shore, where you'll just meet the outrushing rip current again, swim parallel to the shoreline until you reach a spot where the rip current is no longer present. Then turn toward shore. Try to pick a spot where the waves aren't going to dash you onto rocks as you make your approach.

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