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Understanding and Identifying Rip Tides

Have Confidence when Staying Safe this Summer!

Planning a beach trip this summer? Stay cautious about rip tides and their dangers to ensure a safe and sunny experience. Rip tides are strong and narrow currents of fast-moving water, often mistaken for “rip currents”. Nonetheless, both post great danger to swimmers. Rip tides can be prevalent at any beach with powerful tides making it important for all beachgoers to understand how they form, how to recognize them and how to stay safe.

How Do Rip Tides Form?

While rip tides and rip currents are both naturally occurring, rip tides form with an outgoing tide! Sandbanks are formed when waves break onto the beach and pull sand out to sea, this opening triggers the creation of rip tides. The outgoing tide pulls currents of water from an inlet causing rip tides to form. As waves break over sandbanks, riptides will head out to sea and bring any swimmers with them. The height of a tide also contributes to the formation of riptides and it is essential to research the tide times before planning a beach day.

The Dangers of Rip Tides

Due to a rip tides’ strength and speed, they are deemed more hazardous and dangerous than rip currents. They have the ability to carry large amounts of sand that form sand bars out in the sea. If a swimmer were to be caught in a rip tide, panic and exhaustion would emerge as individuals try to swim against the current. This struggle increases the risk of drowning thus understanding these dangers are essential when staying safe at the beach.

How to Identify a Rip Tide

Recognizing a rip tide is the first step in staying safe at the beach and helps you avoid getting caught in one. Similar to rip currents, be aware of the listed signs;

  • A water current of choppy water. Water may appear different in texture or color from the surrounding ocean water

  • An outgoing tide. Formed through tidal movements, water moving in or out an inlet creates the powerful rip tide current.

  • A break in the ocean’s wave pattern. Rip tides have the ability to disrupt the flow of waves breaking onto the beach shore.

How to Stay Safe as a Swimmer or Beachgoer

  1. Avoid Swimming at Inlets. As rip tides are prevalent within inlets at barrier beaches, it is advised for swimmers or beachgoers to avoid these areas.

  2. Stay Cautious of Warning Signs. Beaches posted with signs and flags will indicate any alarming water conditions and prevent swimmers from heading in.

  3. Plan Ahead and Swim at Lifeguarded Beaches! Beaches with lifeguard towers are able to spot riptides from afar and their trained lifeguards can assist swimmers in trouble. Download the Beaches.App to assist your beach search with lifeguard towers using our convenient filter feature!

Understanding rip tides is important if you are going to spend time at the beach this summer. Knowing how they form, realizing the signs and remembering our safety trip can ensure your safe beach experience. For more essential information on beaches and ocean conditions, check out our app Beaches.App available on IOS and Android to enjoy the sea with confidence!


“Undertow, Rip Current, and Riptide.” Journal of Coastal Research, vol. 28, no. 4, 1 July 2012,

“Riptide: A Maritime Phenomenon to Understand for a Leisurely Swim.” Ocean Clock,



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