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RIP CURRENTS

     Rip currents are an area of concern. The majority of rescues and assists we perform occur within rip currents. These currents are formed by a gulley, or low point, on the ocean bottom which in turn causes a rapid outward flow of water. This occurs when variable wave conditions create unevenness in the ocean bottom or there is a breech in an offshore sandbar. Rip currents may pull continuously or suddenly appear after a set of waves. These can vary in width and length. Rip currents do not always pull straight outward but can pull out at angles as well. In addition, these areas are deeper than surrounding areas (see picture at bottom), which adds to a victim's fear quickly once they realize they are caught. The statistics in the proceeding chart represent ocean rescues performed by the Hampton Beach Patrol Surf Rescue.


2014 2015 2016
Ocean Rescues: 85 230 142

      Typically, a victim will not realize he is near a rip current, until he is actually in a predicament. Usually, victims will edge out beyond their means and abilities (within a rip current) a bit at a time, and subsequently become caught. Simply stated: an individual wades out, unknowingly begins to be pulled outward, ends up over his head, decides to swim back, can’t, continues to be pulled outward, realizes he is caught, and panics.

     Rip currents have identifiable traits. Rips will generally kick-up sand which turns and mixes about as a result of an outward channel being carved from the ocean bottom or torn through an offshore sandbar. Areas where rip currents which have existed for a longer period of time have a dark appearance in the middle. This is due to the increased depth compared to the surrounding area. This is where the channel of outward flowing water is located. Rip currents have identifiable traits. These include lower wave heights relative to the surrounding area, choppier water, and of course the outward current to sea.

     Tidal Rip Currents - These develop in same specific areas at the same point within the tide-cycle. These typically have a darker appearance in their center due to the increased depth relative to the surrounding area. An uneven contour of the ocean bottom which consists of depressions, a breech within an off-shore sandbar, or large submarine rocks/objects are essential conditions for this type of rip current development. These rips are easy to predict because they appear at the same points within the tide-cycle and dissipate in the same timely manner. This condition does not change until Mother Nature's variable wave conditions fill/level these valleys/depressions with sand. This will result in a more even bottom. Just as Mother Nature can “level out” the bottom it can easily create unevenness.

     Flash Rip Currents - These are due larger volumes of water and moving toward the shoreline and typically associated with large wave conditions. These rips will quickly appear and remain for a brief time and subesequently return again. The following tweet was a result of this condition.

     Body boards enhance the danger of rip currents. These allow individuals to become over their heads quickly, without notice, and move outward within a rip current rapidly. Boards also provide a false sense of security, especially for those who lack proficient swimming skills. Imagine an individual who can't swim grasping a body board, unknowingly out over their head; now add the rip current. This happens quite often at Hampton's Main Beach.

     Getting out of a rip current can be done but extremely difficult for the layman. It is best for the average person to relax, not to panic, conserve their energy, and swim not against the current; but out of it and subsequently to the shoreline. Remember, rip currents can be vary in width and run at a variety of angles. They are not always perfectly straight out to sea currents.

(United States Lifesaving Assoc.)
This is a typical rip
current formation in action.
IDENTIFIABLE TRAITS:
  • Recently formed rip currents kick up sand which turns & mixes about
  • Rip currents which have existed for a longer period of time have a darker appearance in their center
  • Lower wave heights relative to the surrounding area
  • Choppier water
  • A visable current pulling away from the shoreline
(National Weather Service)
A breech within a sandbar
often causes a rip current.
Dave DiFilippo is about to perform a minor assist in an area where a rip is just becoming active. Mary Boland, on right, is just outside the area where the valley/depression and rip are located. The depth differences are apparent.