How to Get Out of a Rip Current

Nothing can ruin a beach day quite like getting caught (or injured, or worse) in a rip current. Every guy should know how to spot and escape a rip current, whether you’re swimming at a protected beach manned by a Baywatch team or exploring an uncharted cove.

These powerful, unpredictable, channeled currents that flow away from shore can be deadly. The United States Lifesaving Association estimates that the U.S. sees more than 100 deaths due to rip currents every year; these currents account for over 80 percent of rescues performed by beach lifeguards.

Minardi life guard on duty
Jimmy Minardi, founder of East End Ocean Rescue. Fall Media Group

To learn how to get out of a rip current, we spoke to Jimmy Minardi, founder of East End Ocean Rescue. Minardi established EEOR 14 years ago to decrease rescue response times and help save lives along the beautiful New York beaches of the East End, which overflow with vacationers each year. Quick tip: Minardi says rip currents may be rougher on the East Coast than the West due to factors like the sand, quick moving summer storms, and tide changes.

Step 1: Spot a Rip Current

“You can see rip currents from the beach,” says Minardi. “They look like discolored water going back out to sea. You can’t miss it. The water on either side will look different and the channel of water will have a chop to it.” Minardi tells The Manual that this discoloration is the result of sand and seaweed being pulled out to sea.

how to spot a rip current
Jeff Greenberg/Getty Images

Step 2: Don’t Panic

If you feel yourself being pulled out to sea — you’ll know it’s a rip current since many move at speeds of up to 8 feet per second (faster than an Olympic swimmer) — “first and foremost, don’t panic,” says Minardi. “Panicking is what causes all the problems. When you start panicking, you’re using twice the amount of energy swimming against the rip. You might as well be swimming against Niagara Falls. When you panic, you’re making it twice as hard for survival.”

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Step 3. Forget the Myths

“It’s not going to suck you down,” says Minardi. “Undertow is a myth. Rip currents pulling you underneath the water is a myth. Panicking, however, will pull you underneath the water.”

Step 4: Swim in the Right Direction

Once you get past the panic, Minardi says “swimming parallel with the beach will get you out every time.” He adds that the best way to determine which way to swim is by picking your coastline, not your water line, and returning to the beach at an angle. “You may be going backward and that will be uncomfortable, but as long as you’re swimming parallel with the sand, to the right or left, you’ll be fine.”

man swimming out of rip current
The AGE/Getty Images

Step 5: Tread Patiently

For experienced swimmers or those who cannot swim parallel with the coastline (although Minardi says this should theoretically work every time), let the rip take you out. Wait … what? That’s right — let the current take you out from the beach.

“If you’re comfortable with treading water, do nothing,” says Minardi. “The rip will bring you out and the natural ebb and flow of the ocean will bring you back to the beach. However, I suggest you be really experienced and comfortable with the ocean.”

“[Rip currents] let go and eventually diminish and you can swim back in,” he adds.

Step 6. Call a Lifeguard

If you happen to get caught in a rip current on a protected beach, Minardi says to resort to Step 2 and let the lifeguard do their life-guarding.

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