You might suspect that sharks, poisonous jellyfishes or crabs are the greatest natural enemies for swimmers and surfers.
Ocean-related fatality statistics, however, disprove this assumption. Underwater animals, like the scary white shark, are not the main reason for most casualties. Between five and 15 people are killed by sharks worldwide.
However, the number of casualties by rip currents ranks second after heat-related deaths. Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) estimates that between 80 and 90 people drown every year due to rip currents along Australian coastlines. They are responsible for 80 % off all surf zone rescues.
On my first day in Australia, my host-family informed me how dangerous a rip current can be. I already knew that Aussies prefer to drive on the wrong lane, but rip currents, what’s that?
A rip current, also referred to as a rip, is a moving current of water, sometimes strong or fast flowing. It will usually start near the shoreline and flow into the open deep water. It may feel like you are in a fast moving flow of water, like being in a river or you may not notice it at all.
Dragging people away from the beach, rip currents can be extremely dangerous. They often lead to drowning when swimmers attempt to fight against the current, become exhausted and begin to panic. Rips are not undertow, therefore they don’t pull people under water.
If you get caught in a rip current, don’t panic and don’t try to swim against the current. Raise your arm to call for assistance, while floating to conserve your energy. If you are confident, escape the current by swimming parallel to the beach. When free of the current, swim at an angle (away from the current) toward shore. Breaking waves can assist you back to shore.
To get a better understanding of rip currents and professional advice how to escape them just check out the SLSA and USLA websites and the following two movies.