Rip Currents

What is a rip current and how to avoid, and if necessary, swim out of one

Rip currents can be powerful and dangerous. It is important to understand what a rip current is, how they form, how to spot them, and if necessary, what to do if you're caught in one.

What is a rip current?

Rip currents are channeled currents of water flowing away from shore. They generally begin from the shoreline and head through the surf zone – past the line of breaking waves. Some people mistakenly call this undertow. It is important to understand that there is no undertow, just water moving away from the beach. Learn more about rip currents at the National Weather Service »

How do rip currents form?

Rip currents are created by wind and waves. Waves that break over shallow sandbars and reefs push water towards the shore. Water builds up near shore and must get back out to sea. This pressure creates concentrated rivers of water to move away from the beach to calmer deeper water. The water forced away from shore is otherwise known as a rip current.

How to spot a rip current

Look for waves breaking over shallow reefs and/or sandbars. Then look for deeper channel(s) without waves breaking. This is where water will be moving away from shore. Rip currents will look similar to a moving river with little chops breaking against the flow of water. View photos of rip currents at the National Weather Service »

What to do if you find yourself in a rip current

The best thing to do is learn to spot rip currents and avoid them. However, if you do find yourself in a rip current, remember the following. It could save your life!

  • Don't Fight The Rip Current - Conserve energy, keep calm, float, breathe, don’t panic, and wave for help
  • Go With The Flow - You can easily float in the current, there is no undertow. Allow the current to take you away from the beach. In weaker rips, swim parallel to the shore until the current has completely relaxed. Otherwise, the current will eventually release you offshore. Once this happens swim perpendicular and towards the beach
  • Wait For Help - If there is large surf or shoreline hazards, wave your hands for help and wait for assistance