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What are Rip Currents?

Staying Safe at the Beach!

When you head to the beach for a day of sun and surf, the last thing on your mind might be the hidden dangers lurking in the water. Rip currents, however, are one of the most common and potentially dangerous natural phenomena beachgoers may encounter. Understanding what rip currents are and how to identify them can save your life and ensure your beach day remains fun and safe.

What are Rip Currents?

Rip currents are powerful, narrow channels of fast-moving water that flow from the shore back out to sea. They can form at any beach with breaking waves and are especially prevalent near structures like jetties and piers. These currents are typically strongest near the surface and can extend hundreds of feet offshore. Rip currents can also occur on sunny days when the water seems clear, not just stormy days. 

Signs to Look For!

  1. Difference in Water Color: Rip currents often appear darker or murkier than the surrounding water due to the sand and debris they carry.

  2. Foam or Debris Moving Seaward: Watch for areas where foam or floating debris is moving steadily away from the shore.

  3. Breaking Wave Patterns: Areas where waves aren't breaking as consistently, or where there's a noticeable gap between breaking waves, can indicate the presence of a rip current.

  4. Choppy Water: Rip currents can cause a section of water to appear rougher or choppier than its surroundings, even on relatively calm days.

Types of Rip Currents:

  1. Boundary Rip Currents: These are stable and persistent rip currents that maintain a relatively constant position. They often form around permanent structures like jetties or groins.

  2. Flash Rip Currents: Also known as transient rip currents, these are brief and temporary currents that can appear suddenly and change location rapidly. They are less predictable than fixed rip currents. They appear as turbulent streaks of water and sand. 

  3. Channelized Rip Currents: These are narrow rip currents that form in the gaps between sandbars. They can be particularly dangerous because they can swiftly carry swimmers from shallow to deeper water. A way to identify this is by the classic dark gap.

  4. Complex Rip Currents: These are rip currents that exhibit more than one flow path or circulation pattern. They can be challenging to identify and navigate.

Safety Tips

  • Know Before You Go: Check local beach advisories and talk to lifeguards about current conditions.

  • Swim Near Lifeguards: Always swim at beaches with lifeguards present and heed their advice.

  • Stay Calm and Float: If caught in a rip current, stay calm and don’t fight the current. Float on your back and calmly swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current, then swim back to shore.

  • Signal for Help: If you're unable to swim out of the current, wave and shout for help.

Rip currents are a natural part of the beach environment, but with awareness and preparation, you can enjoy the beach safely. Stay safe beachgoers and have fun exploring the beauty of our ocean shores!

Use the Beaches App to see the wave height ahead of time to gauge if you should really swim at that beach!


Types of rip currents. Science of the Surf. (n.d.).

Types of rips. Rip Current Safety. (n.d.-b).


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