Danger at the Beach: Five Facts to Know about Rip Currents!
The Institute of Marine Affairs is urging the public to exercise caution at the beach, especially over the long Easter weekend. During the month of April, beaches in Trinidad and Tobago experience heightened wave energy associated with the Northern Hemisphere winter, which increases the likelihood of strong nearshore currents that pose a threat to beachgoers. The month of April is also a preferred time for families with children and friends to visit the beach as children get a vacation break from school.
Rip currents are powerful flows of water moving seawards that can easily drag unsuspecting bathers out to sea, these dangerous currents are often responsible for drownings. Rip currents are a prevailing hazard along Trinidad and Tobago’s coastline, they occur in pocket beaches with moderate to high wave energy. You can look out for rip currents at popular beaches along Trinidad’s North Coast (Maracas, Las Cuevas, Tyrico), along the East Coast (Manzanilla, Mayaro) and on both the leeward and windward coasts of Tobago at beaches that are not protected by coral reef systems.
Here are five facts that you should know about Rip Currents to keep you and others safe at the beach:
Rip Currents are dangerous for even the strongest of swimmers.
These powerful currents move extremely fast, speeds of up to 2 metres per second have been recorded. They are a threat to all beachgoers, regardless of how experienced of a swimmer you are.
Rip currents can occur in shallow waters.
A common misconception is that currents only occur far out to sea. Rip currents occur in close proximity to breaking waves, in relatively shallow waters.
Rip currents can be present in all kinds of weather and sea conditions.
Another misconception is that rip current only occur during periods of bad weather and rough seas. Rip currents can form on even the sunniest days, with calm sea conditions and small waves.
Rip Currents are not always visible.
Spotting a rip current can be extremely difficult, especially on days when the sea is calm and generally unsuspecting. It is important to observe the prevailing sea conditions when visiting the beach, be observant, obey lifeguards and avoid red flag areas.
Remaining calm and swimming parallel to the shoreline are the best practices if you find yourself stuck in a Rip Current!
Try your hardest not to panic, this can lead to over exertion and increase your chances of drowning. DO NOT swim directly against the current back to shore, stay calm and begin to swim in a direction parallel to the shoreline,when you no longer feel the pull of the current turn and calmly swim back to shore.
These facts emphasize the danger that rip currents pose to beachgoers, it is important to try to avoid these hazards for safe and enjoyable swimming. If you are visiting a beach that does not have an attending lifeguard, here are some signs to look out for to identify a rip current:
- Areas of choppy waves
- A line of floating debris or seaweed extending seawards- these floating items are demarcating the flow of water out to sea
- Cloudy patches of water and sand plumes- brown/ sand coloured patches of water that extend seawards
If you observe any of the above conditions, avoid swimming in those areas as there is a high likelihood of a rip current. In general, we encourage all beach goers to be observant of their surroundings and remain safe. Always remember, ‘If in doubt, don’t go out’.
Institute of Marine Affairs, 2015, A guide to the Beaches and Bays of Trinidad and Tobago
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, 7 Rip Current Myths Debunked, 7 rip current myths debunked (weather.gov)