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How to spot a rip

A young woman looks out to the ocean at the beach

Before you jump into the ocean, here's how to spot a rip

A young woman looks out to the ocean at the beach

It’s a time when the mercury is almost as high as the bikini bottoms; Australian summers are simply made for long days spent by the beach, but with almost 300 drowning deaths last year – 15% of them aged 25-34 – it’s so important to know how to identify a rip before you and your mates jump in the ocean.

What is a rip?

A rip is a strong current that flows away from the shore. When someone gets caught in a rip, it can drag them past where the waves break and into deeper water.

The real danger comes when you start to panic and swim against the rip. So, it’s recommended to keep calm if you do get caught in a rip; raise your arm to seek help and try floating with the current or swimming parallel to the shore and use the breaking waves to help you get back in.

A man wearing goggles swims in the ocean

How do I spot a rip?

Rips can be tricky to spot and, because they can change shape and location, you need to stay aware at all times. Some of the characteristics of a rip are:

  • A break in the waves: if you spot a calm-looking section of water between the line of a breaking wave, it’s highly likely that it’s a rip. Although it may look like a safe place to swim, because there isn’t as much white-wash, it can pull you out from the shore very quickly.

  • Discolouration of the water: a rip might be a different colour, cloudier or more opaque that the rest of the water.

  • Foam or debris: If you spot a ‘river’ of foam or debris floating out to sea, it could be a sign that there’s a strong current below the surface of the water.

Credit: Surf Life Saving Australia

Play it safe when you’re heading to out for a swim and check out Surf Life Saving Australia’s beach safety page. Make sure you swim at a patrolled beach and complete appropriate first aid training.

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