Rip Currents - How to Stay Safe

How rips form

A rip current (or just rip) is a localised current of water normally associated with surf conditions.  As a wave breaks there is a net flow of water towards the shore, effectively increasing the water level between the surf and the beach.  This water has to flow back out to sea in order to maintain sea level and it will normally take the path of least resistance.  On a beach this is often an area of deep water between sandbars where the waves are not breaking or where a stream or river flows into the sea.

Types of rip

Permanent or Fixed Rips - These normally remain in place permanently or for long periods of time and are due to the topography of the sea bed or shoreline structures providing a permanent 'path of least resistance back out to sea. 

Flash Rips - Temporary rips that can appear at a moments notice.  Normally caused by stormy surf with long wave sets increasing the volume of water above sea-level or a change in the offshore sand banks and bars.

How to identify a rip

Rips are often identifiable by their lack of breaking waves, the surface of the water may have a choppy appearance and foam or floating flotsam and jetsam may be evident.

Both pictures taken from a good article on rips from

Escaping from a rip

There is a danger from rips of being swept into treacherous waters e.g. round the corner towards cliffs but perhaps the biggest danger is for the unaware and/or weak swimmer who suddenly finds themselves out of their depth and heading out to sea.  Their tendency is to panic, attempt to swim back in against the rip, tire themselves and then without assistance there is the potential for a drowning.

  • The key is to remain calm and try not to panic and tire yourself out.  


  • If you have a board or flotation device hold on to it: as a rip heads out to sea it tends to get weaker.  Do NOT try to swim against the rip as you are unlikely to beat it.

  • Swim across the beach at 90 degrees to the rip and into the surf zone (this can be counter intuitive to a weak swimmer who is intimidated by the waves.  However the waves will wash you into the beach as opposed to out to sea.)  


  • Once free of the rip then swim in towards the beach.

If you are unsure about the surf conditions, speak to a lifeguard.