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How Rip Currents Work?

Before learning about rip current safety or understanding how rip currents work, it is important to understand the term itself. The currents flowing away from the shore are termed as rip currents. These are typically strong currents carrying the water away from the shoreline. These currents occur through the surf line and can be experienced on any shore that have breaking waves. They can occur on oceans, seas and even lakes.

Rip Current Mechanism

A rip current is a small scale current flowing away from the shore. The disperse along the beach and tend to trap the water between the beach and an underwater structure. The trapped water when acted upon by gravity moves seaward. Rip currents have three components:

  1. Feeder: The feeder portion feeds the current.
  2. Neck: The portion where water flow away from the beach is termed as the neck. The speed of the currents is the highest in this portion. The length of this portion ranges from 30 to 100 feet and speed of the current in this portion is high. It is this combination of length and speedĀ  what makes it dangerous.
  3. Head: This is the final portion of the current. The neck ends in this portion and the current spreads out towards the sea.

The diagram below clearly shows these components and will help the reader to understand how rip currents work and their dangers.

Rip-currents-formation

Rip-currents-formation

Around 150 deaths are lost every year in the United States alone. More than 80% of all rescue operations are undertaken due to rip currents. This should be sufficient to emphasize why rip current safety is important at shores and beaches.

Shores where rip currents are experienced carry warnings regarding the same. In spite of such alarming figures, swimmers get engulfed in rip currents due to lack of knowledge. In the following paragraphs, let us look at some basic information about these currents and try and understand what makes these currents something to guard against.

  • Rip currents are fast and high currents. The flow of a typical rip current varies from .5 meters per second to 2.5 meters per second and on a beach break they can go up to tens of meters a day.
  • Rip Currents are unpredictable. It runs perpendicular to the shore and is a powerful and a narrow current that moves very fast. Unlike tides, these are not caused by the gravitational force of the moon but rather the shape of the shoreline and can occur anytime.
  • Rip Currents carry a body away from the shore. Rip currents are different from undertow. Undertows are responsible for pulling a body down even to the level of the bottom of the ocean, where as rip currents occur on the surface and pull a body straight into the ocean.
  • Rip Currents can occur in all types of weathers and cannot be noticed till a body is in midst.
  • Rip Currents can knock down even in shallow waters, deep waters are not an essential to experience the same.

Population in the world is increasing very fast. Even those areas which were considered inhospitable for man are being used today. Today it is inevitable to be on shores that experience rip currents. The best is to be cautious and aware. Some of the precautions that one can take while on shore are:

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Rip Current Safety

Rip Current Safety

  • All shores experiencing rip currents have adequate warnings displayed around. Act vigilant and read these warnings before stepping close to the waters.
  • In case going surfing or swimming, make sure that there are life guards on the shore.
  • In case if a person does get knocked down by a rip current, the best is to relax the body, as this tends to keep one near the shore.

Various agencies are involved in researching on rip currents and to increase awareness regarding rip current safety and the dangers posed by them.

ripcurrentcloseup

ripcurrentcloseup

Till the time no definite technique of predicting rip currents is devised it is best to be cautious and responsible. But at least now you know how rip currents work so can avoid a possible situation. Shown below is close up of rip current.

 

 

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