Adventure Safety Tips | How To Get Out Of A Rip Current

by | Apr 25, 2023 | Safety, Adventure, Outdoors, Paddle, Sports, Surf Ski

This past summer saw an unfortunate number of drownings up and down our coastline. Most could be directly attributed to swimmers getting caught in rip currents. While it is a term just about everybody has heard and most public beaches have diagrams warning of the dangers and explaining how rip currents ‘work’ people still get caught unawares, even experienced ocean goers and strong swimmers. Here is a brief outline of what to do, should you get stricken.

Firstly, let’s start with some background: A rip current is a powerful, fast-moving current that flows away from shore, usually at an angle. Rip currents are caused by the interaction of waves with the beach, and they can occur at any beach with breaking waves. They can be difficult to spot if you don’t know what to look for, but they are often identified by a gap or break in the waves, as well as a noticeable change in the colour and ‘texture’ of the water.

Step 1: Don’t Panic

Okay, so this might be the most cliche adventure safety advice out there, but there is a reason for it. “When you panic, don’t panic,” says guru waterman Chris Bertish, after years surfing big waves, and crossing the ocean in a variety of crafts Bertish knows what he’s talking about. Fear is the first reaction, once that hits force yourself to ‘not panic.’ Try to stay calm and focused. The thing to remember is that rip current are not tidal waves or undertows. They won’t pull you under the water or drag you ‘far’ out to sea. Instead, they will simply pull you away from shore and then usually diagonally, so if you remain calm you can get out.

Step 2: Don’t Fight the Current

The way to get yourself out of the current is to go with it. Now this might go against everything your brain is telling you, but it will eventually spit you out or allow you to swim diagonally out of the force of the current. Rip currents can be very strong, and trying to swim directly against them can be exhausting and dangerous. Swim parallel to the shore, following the current until it weakens, and then swim back to shore at an angle.

Step 3: Call for Help

We are fortunate to have well-trained lifeguards at most public beaches in South Africa. If you are unable to swim out of the rip current or if you become too tired to swim, shout or wave your arms for help alerting the lifeguards as well as swimmers, surfers or paddlers nearby to your plight.

How To Get Out Of A Rip Current
(c) Anders Marlowe / Unsplash

Step 4: Use a Floatation Device

The one mistake many inexperienced ocean-goers make is to let go of their floatation devices. The truth is that a floatie, SUP or bodyboard make you more susceptible to being swept out, the trick is to hang onto that device as though it is a life raft. Not only will it help you stay afloat, but will also allow you to conserve energy and remain calm while you wait for help.

Don'T Fight A Rip Current
(c) Arın Turkay / Pexels

Step 5: Stay Calm

Throughout the ordeal, take stock, focus on your breathing and stay calm. This will help you conserve energy and work on swimming with the current and then out of it back to shore.


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