Rip Currents

September 05, 2002


Provided by: NOAA
Summary authors & editors: Shane Cooley

While many beach-goers are concerned about the possibility of shark attacks, rip tides or rip currents are more dangerous to people who vacation at the shore. Areas along beaches that are most susceptible to these powerful currents include piers, jettys and especially, sand bars. Even the most powerful swimmer will have difficulty swimming against a rip tide. If you're caught in a rip tide, always swim parallel to the shore line.

A rip current is actually a strong, narrow channel of water that flows from the surf-zone out to sea, as shown on the above photo. It develops when breaking waves push onshore, then gravity pulls the water back out to sea. On occasion the back-flowing water will break through a sand bar, and this creates a channel, accelerating the waters rush toward the sea. Rip currents sometimes appear like muddy, choppy rivers flowing away from the shore. They tend to be most dangerous approximately 2 hours before and 2 hours following low tide.

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