How to spot & survive a rip current

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Rip currents are a big threat to learner surfers, constantly causing surfers and swimmers to be rescued in the Summer seasons down here in Newquay and when there is a big swell and alot of water moving around, there have been a number of fatal accidents. Every day, swell and beach is different, but swimming between the red and yellow flags and only surfing in lifeguarded patrol times (10am – 6pm) are advised, but we know that this isn’t realistic once you’ve caught the surfing but, so here’s some advice on what to do if you get caught in a ‘rip’:

Firstly you need to know what a rip current is. We run SLSGB Beach Lifeguard courses and this is one of the first things we study in quite some detail, but in laymens terms: “A rip current is a body of water moving away from the beach back out to the ocean usually to just past the waves break.”

This video explains it quite well and shows rip currents nicely:

Rip currents are capable of taking the strongest surfers and swimming far out to sea which will cause distress and panic, leading to severe fatigue, which can be fatal (panicing, swallowing water, drowning)

So to spot a rip look out for:

  • A choppy body of water that has a churning motion
  • A line of sea foam, seaweed or debris that is moving steadily out to sea
  • A disrupted pattern of incoming waves

If you see any of the above, avoid.


If you do get caught in a rip, don’t stress, literally. Try to do the following:

  • Keep calm. Don’t fight the rip current as you will get very tired
  • To get out of the rip current, swim sideways, parallel to the beach
  • When you are definitely out of the rip, swim at an angle away from the rip current still and towards the beach with the waves helping you
  • If you can’t escape this way, try to float or calmly tread water until the rip strength weakens (outback past where the waves break). This will be daunting as you’ll be quite far out to sea but now you will be able to swim parallel to the beach and then towards shore
  • If you feel like you’re not going to make it in, draw attention to yourself: face the beach, wave your arms and shout for help.

It would be nice if all of our beaches could be lifeguarded all year round, but that’s not the case so educate yourself before you go surfing/ swimming, read the information boards on the beaches and avoid surfing by yourself.

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