Rip currents are powerful, channeled currents

Break the grip of the rip! Click on the image for a larger view.

Rip currents often form at low spots or breaks in sandbars. The powerful current channel may be very narrow or several yards wide. Can you spot the rip current in this photo of the beach at Big Sur, California? Click on the image to see if you were correct.

Rip currents are powerful, narrow channels of fast-moving water that are prevalent along the East, Gulf, and West coasts of the U.S., as well as along the shores of the Great Lakes.

Moving at speeds of up to eight feet per second, rip currents can move faster than an Olympic swimmer.

Panicked swimmers often try to counter a rip current by swimming straight back to shore—putting themselves at risk of drowning because of fatigue.

Lifeguards rescue tens of thousands of people from rip currents in the U.S. every year, but it is estimated that 100 people are killed by rip currents annually. If caught in a rip current, don't fight it! Swim parallel to the shore and swim back to land at an angle.

While the terms are ofter confused, rip currents are different than rip tides. A rip tide is a specific type of current associated with the swift movement of tidal water through inlets and the mouths of estuaries, embayments, and harbors.

For more information:

The Grip of the Rip (Ocean Today video)

NOAA Rip Current safety tips, surf forecasts

Coastal Currents Education Kit, NOS Education

Rip Current photos