Coast KZN

27 Dec 2021

Watch out for dangerous rip currents

Juan Venter ( North Coast Courier) Picture: KwaDukuza lifeguard superintendent, Bongani Xulu.

While there have only been 2 reported near drownings this season, KwaDukuza lifeguard superintendent Bongani Xulu nevertheless urges beachgoers to respect the ocean and stay safe. With bathing beaches on the North Coast to be jam-packed this holiday, KwaDukuza municipality has employed 52 additional lifeguards to ensure that beachgoers remain safe.

But while lifeguards are well trained to spot dangerous situations before they happen, there are situations the public need to know about and how to react – especially relating to rip currents. Spotting and avoiding a rip current could mean the difference between life and death.

These currents develop anywhere and found wherever there are breaking waves. The larger the waves, the stronger the current will be.

Rip currents create ‘rivers’ inside the ocean when water drains from the beach back to the ocean and can move slow enough to become virtually undetectable, especially to the untrained eye.

Given the correct conditions, these can develop into currents which move at speeds up to 2 metres per second – faster than anyone can swim.

“Never swim too close to rocks, as currents often filter close to them,” warned Xulu.

Rip currents can range from a width of just a few feet to a few hundreds yards and they pull to where the waves form. It should be noted that a rip tide and a rip current are not the same, with a rip tide forming as the tide ebbs and flows through a narrow opening such as an estuary.

“If you end up in a rip current, the best thing to do is remain calm,” advised Xulu, who added that lifeguards often spot bathers in trouble well before the situation deteriorates.

You can spot a rip current by keeping an eye out for water moving through a surf zone, different in colour from the surrounding water.

“A change in the incoming pattern of waves is also a tell-tale sign. Watch out for seaweed, sand ‘clouds’ or debris moving out to where waves are in the process of forming.

“Turbulent and choppy water conditions are also a sign of a rip current. As with all risks, avoiding rip currents altogether is safest.”

Xulu advised beachgoers to visit beach areas where lifeguards are on duty and swim between their flags at all times.

“You are not going to win a fight with the ocean. Swim slowly and conservatively out of the current or, relax and allow it to carry you out past the breakers until it slacks,” said Xulu.

If you are swimming at a protected beach and need assistance, simply raise your arms into the air and wave for help. Lifeguards will be present at all bathing beaches from 6 am to 6 pm daily.