Spotting Rip Currents: A Grandma’s Teaching Guide

If you’ve ever gone to the beach, then you’ve definitely heard of rip currents. Not to be confused with undertow, rip currents are serious natural occurrences that can be life-threatening if you’re caught in one. If you’re going to the beach for your next vacation, be sure to read this guide to get all the tips for how to avoid and survive a rip current.

These are all tips to teach the grandkids, as well. The more informed everyone is, the safer they’ll be. Being informed on rip currents doesn’t have to be scary, and could save someone’s life!

What Is a Rip Current?

The first and most important thing to make sure you’re clear on is what a rip current actually is. Since the ocean has so many currents and patterns, these can be hard to spot. These tips will help you understand more of what rip currents are and why you should do everything to avoid them.

In short, a rip current is a powerful, channeled current of water that can move up to eight feet per second. These narrow channels of fast-moving water are dangerous because they’re difficult to spot when you’re already in the water. Rip currents can be avoided and also survived once you know the facts about them.

You’ve probably heard different terms when it comes to the dangers of the ocean. There are rip currents, rip tides, undertow, and more. Knowing the difference between these is the key to spotting them and avoiding them. Let’s look at the difference between a rip current and an undertow.

Rip Currents vs. Undertow

It’s important to not get rip currents confused with other water dangers so that you know what to do for each situation. An undertow is a little less dangerous than a rip current because there is less power behind them. An undertow can be strong enough to knock you down under the waves but isn’t likely to carry you away from the shore as a rip current would.

Rip currents are known for being more dangerous because they have a great deal of strength on the surface of the water. If you’re not careful, this strength in a current could pull you further away from the shore, which is what you want to avoid.

Now that you better understand the differences between a rip current and an undertow, we can dive deeper into why rip currents are so dangerous.

Why Are Rip Currents Dangerous?

The main thing to note about the dangers of rip currents is that they can carry someone as far as the length of a football field in about one minute. Rip currents are extremely fast and strong. When hearing this, you may assume that you’ll feel the strong current before it pulls you out. However, this is not the case. Another danger of rip currents is that you won’t feel it, but you’ll notice you’re in trouble once you’re too far from shore.

At the point of realizing they’re caught in a rip current, people will often panic, which won’t help them get to safety. Rip currents won’t take you under the waves, and they aren’t neverending, but if you don’t know how to safely get out of them to get back to shore, that’s where more dangers lie.

How To Spot a Rip Current

Another important note to keep in mind is how to spot a rip current. If you can do this, you’ll be less likely to get into the water near them, and will also be able to keep others from going towards them. In order to spot a rip, there are several key things to look for out in the water.

Keep an eye out for these things:

  • Deeper/darker water
  • Fewer breaks in the waves
  • Sandy colored water beyond the shoreline
  • Debris/seaweed in the water
  • Significant water movement

The thing about rip currents is that they’re complicated and don’t always show all of these signs at once. A great way to spot them is by noting where the waves are breaking in the water and looking for areas where they’re not. Those areas are normally where a rip could occur.

How To Avoid a Rip Current

Avoiding a rip current may seem like a difficult thing to do, but once you know the signs of one and how to spot one, avoiding them is the easy part. There are several things you can do to avoid rip currents, and staying by a lifeguard is helpful, too. Usually, with a lifeguard nearby and a safety flag up, you’ll know whether or not it’s a safe area to swim in.

If there aren’t lifeguards around, go by the saying, “when in doubt, don’t go out.” This will obviously ensure that you don’t get caught in a rip. Staying at a waist-deep level can be helpful to avoid rip currents as well since you will more easily be able to get away from them.

You can always look up warning signs and hazards, either at the beach or on the beach’s website. These will inform you of the water’s hazards, if any, and will allow you to choose where to swim.

How To Survive a Rip Current

If by chance you or someone you know or see gets pulled into a rip current, there are ways you can get out of and survive them. We’re going to tell you the three most important things to remember if caught in a rip current.

Keep these things in mind and inform others to do the same:

  • Wave and yell: Make sure If you do get caught, start floating and yelling for help. You can also swim parallel to the shore to break out of the current.
  • Relax: This is key to getting out. Don’t panic! Breath deeply and stay above water until you’re out.
  • Don’t go out: As we mentioned, an easy way to survive them is to avoid them, and by now you know how to do that!
  • Be prepared: You can find great information on rip current reports and more on the National Weather Service.

Key Points To Teach Your Grandkids

If you’re a grandparent, you want to keep your grandkids safe at all times. Often you’re on vacation with the little ones, so this is a great guide to make sure they stay safe in the water. Make sure to point out a few of the most important tips about avoiding and surviving rip currents.

Again, this topic doesn’t need to be scary. In fact, we’re sure you can have a sun and informative talk about what rip currents are and what to do if they get caught in one.

Tell them to remember the three ‘R’s. Relax your body, raise your arm to get attention, and rescue will be on its way.

In Conclusion

Rip currents are a real danger, but there’s tons of information available to help keep everybody safe. After all, we want to keep vacationing and going to the beach as fun as possible. Use this guide to inform yourself and your loved ones about rip currents.


Staying Safe on a Surf Beach: What Are Rip Currents? | Frontiers For Young Minds

Rip Currents | Surf Life Saving NSW

How to Escape Rip Currents | NOAA SciJinks