As spring approaches, the beaches of Southern California will again begin to fill with visitors looking to catch a few rays and play in the surf. But as you make your way to the carefree, sandy shores of places like Mission Beach and Pacific Beach in San Diego, remember to recognize the danger posed by rip currents.
Rip currents are powerful currents that pull swimmers out from the beach and into the open ocean. They do not drag people underwater, but they do carry a swimmer very quickly straight out to sea. Rip currents are created when strong crashing waves reside next to weaker waves. The result is a flow of water that moves away from the beach at fairly high speeds and with enormous strength.
There are easy strategies to recall if you happen to be caught in a rip current. First, acknowledge and understand that you are in a rip current and that it will not pull you under, but will take you away from shore. Attempting to fight the current and swim directly back to shore is never your best option, as it will exhaust you waste energy. Instead, stay afloat and try to move perpendicular to the shore. The rip current will eventually dissipate, so if you can manage to stay afloat and you will be able to escape when the rip current ends. The rip current will not extend incredibly far out into the ocean, averaging around a few hundred yards from shore. Once the current has given way, you will be able to swim in a straight line back to shore–as long as you’ve acted wisely and saved your energy! If you are able, attempt to wave for help when caught in the current to gain the attention of a lifeguard or fellow swimmer.
If anyone in your group is a poor swimmer, be very careful, and heed lifeguard warnings. A rip current is dangerous, even for the best swimmer. If someone cannot tread water and stay afloat, surviving a rip current episode can be difficult. If there is any doubt as to the swimming ability of a member of your party, avoid areas with rip currents, and keep your eyes open for warnings.
Recognizing a rip current area can help avoid the danger. Rip currents move away from shore and are typically made of choppy water that is a different color from surrounding water. In general, you may be able to recognize a channel moving away from the shore, cutting through the incoming waves.
Now that you know the dangers of rip currents, how they form and what they look like, here are a few tips to take to the beach for safety, courtesy of Ocean Park Inn located on Pacific Beach in San Diego.
- Swim with Others
- Only swim at Lifeguard protected beaches
- Don’t fight the current
- Float and Tread Water
- Swim parallel to the shore to escape, do not attempt to swim directly back into shore
- Wave for Help if caught in a rip current
The beautiful Pacific Ocean can be a fun and exciting place to spend your vacation in San Diego, and keeping these tips in the back of your mind guarantees that you will enjoy a safe and sunny day at the beach!