Rip Current Information

Beachgoers should be aware of the dangers that exist in the waters around our islands. Rip currents, powerful seaward flowing currents which you may see very near to the shoreline and which can easily pull unsuspecting bathers quickly out to sea, are dangerous. There are times when they are obvious but they can strike unexpectedly. It is with this in mind, the Institute of Marine Affairs hopes the following will inform and educate readers and make beach-going safer for all.

How do rip currents form?
Sometimes, sand from the shore washes away and builds up offshore under the sea surface to form a sandbar. After waves break over the sandbar, a large amount of water builds up close to shore. Channels are eventually cut through this bar by the movement or force of the water, breaking the normal flow of seawater on its return to sea after washing ashore. This causes the water to rush out into the deep in narrow paths, giving rise to rip currents. Jetties projecting out to sea can also cause rip currents because they divert the normal flow of current

How do you identify and avoid rip currents?
If caught in a rip current, do not panic! Panicking will cause you to become exhausted, increasing your risk of drowning. Swim parallel to the shore until you get out of it. Do not swim towards the shore as the current is very close to the shore. If it is a narrow band of water, swim across it or float calmly until it disperses. If someone else is caught in a current, floatable items such as cooler covers, boogie boards and rope can be thrown to the person to lend assistance. Generally, it is advised non-swimmers should not go far into the deeper areas where difficulties may arise and bathers should not float for fun on rubber tyres and other inflatable under strong current conditions. Never swim under the influence of alcohol and stay out of the water for at least one hour after consuming a heavy meal.
Sandy coloured areas - indicate a rip current is forming by washing sand from the bottom as the water flows seaward.
A line of seaweed or floating debris extending seaward - you are witnessing items brought over the sandbar with the waves washing back to sea with rip currents.
Areas of choppy waves - water surface resembles the surface of water such as that seen in an agitated washing machine

What to do if caught in a rip current?
Swim out of the current. Since the currents are relatively narrow, you can escape the flow by swimming parallel to the shore until you break free, then swim diagonally toward the shore. Float if you cannot swim out of the current. Float until it dissipates, then swim diagonally toward the shore or float and summon the beach patrol by waving your hands.

For more info contact the Institute of Marine Affairs, 634-4291/4.
article courtesy of Trinidad Guardian, November 5, 2002

Beware of rip currents Tips for Carnival beach-goers (Edited)
By Darryl Heeralal, Trinidad Express Sunday, February 18th, 2007

Rip currents, lifeguards say, are a major cause of drownings and are the biggest danger to beach-goers. The currents affect all the popular beaches along the north and east coasts.

A rip current is a natural drainage system which the sea creates. The sea's bed is uneven with many high and low spots and because of a greater volume of water coming to shore by rough seas this time of year and flowing back out in a gush the sea-ward pull is increased.

The increased volume of water chooses a specific path to flow back into the sea, creating a "river." The water going back out to the sea pushing against the water coming to shore creates the turbulence which is called a rip current, lifeguards say.

The current is recognised by brownish streaks caused by churned up sand in the water. Another feature of the rip current, warn lifeguards, is unstable and loose sand under your feet when in the water.

During a rip tide, the time between the trough (lowest point when a wave reaches shore) and the crest (the highest point) is quicker and more frequent, giving bathers less time to react to the waves lifeguards say.

In an advisory this weekend the Tourism Ministry cautioned that beach-goers should never swim alone, never swim at night, keep a close watch on young children and the elderly, obey lifeguards and warning signs and flags on the beaches.

Bathers should also take the following precautions in case of rip currents:
-Locate a lifeguard and find out where is a safe spot to bathe
-Look for brown streaks in the water and avoid them.
-And as a rule, bathe in water waist high.

rip current image #1rip current image #2rip current image #3
rip current image #4Rip Current images courtesy of Ouryouth.myrip current image #5

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