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13 Sep 2022

4 ways to spot rip currents and stay safe at sea

Mluleki Mdletshe (Zululand Observer) Picture: The NSRI urges caution in rip currents

With the recent spate of drowning incidents around the country, some being caused by rip currents, the NSRI urges extreme caution around the coast.

Rip currents can develop where there are breaking waves which produce stronger currents. These ‘rivers’ of current are produced by water moving from the beach back out to sea. They occur at many beaches and are the biggest danger facing bathers.

Often, rip currents move slowly enough to barely be detected, but given the right circumstances of waves and beach profile, they can develop into currents moving at speeds of up to 2 m per second – faster than anyone can swim. Avoiding rip currents altogether is the safest strategy, but here are some tips on how to spot a rip current:

• A change in the incoming pattern of waves (often the waves are not breaking in a rip channel)
• Water through a surf zone that is a different colour to the surrounding water
• Turbulent or choppy water in the surf zone in a channel, or river-like shape flowing away from the beach
• Seaweed, sand ‘clouds’ or debris moving out to the backline where waves are forming through the surf zone.

Bathers are at risk of being swept out to sea by rip currents while swimming or wading in water along the beachfront. Even bathers wading in shallow water who find themselves trapped in a rip current that can form suddenly are at risk of being swept out to sea.

Bathers caught in a rip current should not panic. Check out this video summarising all you need to know about rip currents.