ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How to Escape from Rip Currents that are More Deadly Than Sharks

Updated on November 15, 2016
janderson99 profile image

Dr. John uses skills in Biochemistry, Physiology (PhD) to review topics on mental health, depression, sleep, stress, setting positive goals

Recent shark attacks in Australia has triggered some quite bizarre responses from authorities that include fitting sharks with transponders that automatically trigger warnings to beach goers via twitter, to baited-hook lines, and shark nets along beaches.

Stealth wet suits have been designed. At the same time tracking devices fitted to sharks that frequent estuaries and bays has shown that sharks regularly cruise through popular swimming ares without any attacks occurring.

This has triggered diverse response from 'Kill those sharks' to 'I told you sharks are no threat really'. It is a matter of ignorance is bliss.

However, there is a far deadlier menace lurking along the beaches that needs to be better understood.

It is rip currents on beaches. Australian Statistics showed that in 2012:

  • 284 drownings (80% males). In 2011 it was 310. The estimated cost to the economy was put at $1 billion per year.
  • 104 drownings occurred in inland waters (rivers, lakes and dams; and also major flood events)
  • 55 drownings at beaches
  • 55 drownings from watercraft accidents
  • 22 drowning in swimming pools
  • 2 deaths from shark attacks (22 encounters, 9 non-fatal injuries, 3 with no injuries)
  • In Western Australia, 20 reported shark attacks in 100 years, 7 in last three years.

So why are rip currents, which cause most of the deaths on beaches in Australia, so deadly?

The mortalities from shark attacks are much lower than for many other causes
The mortalities from shark attacks are much lower than for many other causes | Source
The location of a rip can be identified by experienced surfers and beach goers.
The location of a rip can be identified by experienced surfers and beach goers. | Source
Rips form when water that accumulates from breaking waves exits in a channel. The rip dissipates quickly outside of where the waves build-up off the beach
Rips form when water that accumulates from breaking waves exits in a channel. The rip dissipates quickly outside of where the waves build-up off the beach | Source

Rip Currents and Inexperienced Swimmers A Dangerous Combination

Rip currents are strong, narrow channels of water that returns the water carried to the beach by waves back to deeper water. Most people who go surfing experience the tug of rips regularly, but they know what they are and how to avoid them.

Under certain circumstances the rips may form suddenly when a sand bank collapses or the wave pattern changes. In some locations regular rips may occur near rock at the end of the beach. Board riders use these locations as 'elevators' to pull them out past the line of the breakers.

Despite the strength of rips, they generally dissipate naturally just beyond the area where the waves are breaking. This may be only 25-50 meters out from the sand bank or area where the waves are breaking.

If you understand rip currents, and swim with them, and then return to the beach, there is little real danger if you are a good swimmer.

Problems occur with poor swimmers, especially those that panic, and try to swim against the current.

Rips are one of the major reasons why people drown at the beach.

Why Do Rips Form?

Why rips form is quite simple. The breaking waves and the white water brings a large volume of water close to the shore inside of the wave breaking zone. The water accumulates and has to go somewhere to restore the balance. Usually the water simply exists all along the beach, sometimes creating a back wave. Occasionally the water rushes out in a narrow channel forming a rip.

Most experienced swimmers can recognise a rip by obvious signs that the water is rushing out at that point. Quite often it is 'white water' or the channel is deeper. Also, because of the deeper depth, the waves are smaller and there is often a break in the line of waves that break on the beach, coinciding with the rip location.

Inexperienced visitors to the beach don't know how to recognise these signs and how to avoid these areas. The smaller waves often deceive inexperienced swimmers who may wrongly choose these areas as a better place to swim. Poor swimmers may quickly get into trouble if they are swept off their feet into deeper water. The tug of the rip heading out to sea causes panic and unfortunately many people drown after being caught in rips.

Major incidents occur when a sandbank collapses and a strong rip develops suddenly in an area crowded with swimmers. In some cases 10, 20 or 100 swimmers may simultaneously get into trouble, even in areas patrolled by 'life savers'. This can quickly overwhelm the rescue attempts. Help may take time coming and people can drown very quickly under these circumstances.

How Often to Rips Form?

Rips are quite common and virtually even beach will have one or more rips of various sizes at any one time. Some beaches are renowned for rips.

Despite the popularity of beach swimming in Australia it is estimated that half of regular beach goers are unaware of rips, how to spot them and what to do if they get caught in rips. International visitors and occasional beach goers are high risks, especially those with poor swimming ability. Even competent swimmers in still water can be challenged by the rough water at the beach. Panic can bring good swimmers undone.

Surveys conducted by a research team at the University of New South Wales in Sydney found that about 21 people drown in rip currents each year. This death rate is higher that the average annual deaths from bushfires, floods, cyclones and shark attacks. There are a very large number of near-misses and people being rescued in patrolled areas. Rips are by far the most common cause of calls for assistance from life savers on Australian Beaches.

Need for Better Education About Rips

Despite the high death rate much less is being done to reduce the risk of rips than is being done to reduce the risk of shark attacks. In some cases, people drive to the beach but don't go in the water because they are afraid of sharks. They are unaware that the probability of being injured or killed on the way to and from the beach is probably 1,000,000 times greater than a shark attack.

Researchers and authorities have called for improved education about rips and signage along major beaches to reduce the risk. The major issue is to teach people not to panic, be aware of what is happening and to simply float out with the rip and either return to the beach at another location, or to call for assistance. Panic is the cause of deaths from rip currents.

© 2014 Dr. John Anderson


Submit a Comment

  • CyberShelley profile image

    Shelley Watson 

    4 years ago

    A very useful article as two swimmers were lost over Christmas due to rip currents along the South African coast. Up, useful and interesting.

  • Eiddwen profile image


    4 years ago from Wales

    So very interesting and very useful.

    Voted up.



This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)