As a former surf lifesaver, when I’m at a beach I constantly find myself automatically in patrol mode, and I’m always troubled seeing the amount of swimmers that enter the surf straight into a rip zone, reveals musician Kenny Jewel. This includes, and most worryingly of all, children. I hope the below tips will help.

I know a lot of people are kind of aware of what to do if caught in a rip, but it seems a lot of people aren’t aware of what a rip actually looks like or where the safest place to swim at the beach is if there is no flagged area.

One person will drown every two to three days this summer, and 90 per cent of those fatalities will be rip-related. Here are a few pointers that will help you and your kids stay safe this summer. I have also put together some images that show what to look for in the surf.

1. Find the rip

The easiest thing to remember is that often the safest/calmest most enticing looking area along a beach is usually a rip. A rip is usually the area void of wave activity and appears darker and deceptively calmer. It can sometimes appear milky or turbulent, but it is always pretty much void of wave activity. All that water coming in via waves has to go back out somehow – this is what a rip is. The purple dye in the picture here shows the movement of the water within a rip.

rip movement

2. Observe the conditions

Always take 5-10 minutes when you get to the beach to observe the surf conditions and identify where the rip current areas are. These pictures may help you recognise them. Note that the darker/calmer areas in the pics are rips.

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3. In a rip? Plan your next move

If you are caught in a rip, DO NOT PANIC. Go into floating mode and raise one arm as a distress signal when possible. See which direction the rip is taking you: is it straight out or at an angle? Once you have determined this, and if you have the energy, swim to the right or left of the direction of flow, never against. Some rips can move at three times the speed of an Olympic swimmer – you won’t win! If you cannot swim out to either side of the rip, just go with it. Most rips won’t take you out very far, and will usually spit you out not long after they take you, so keep calm and save your energy for the swim back to current escape

4. Teach awareness

If you have kids, show them the pictures in this article, educate them and make them aware. You can’t always be watching them, and it is only a matter of a few metres each way from the point of entry into the water that could mean the difference between them being safe or instantly caught in a rip.

Obviously, the safest place to swim is always between the flags on a patrolled beach, but this isn’t always practical given the immensity of our coastline and number of beautiful beaches. Of course, there are many other factors that can come into play when it comes to beach safety, but rips are the number-one killer. They are not hard to identify, and 10 minutes observation before entering the surf is much easier and preferable than a body retrieval.


About our Sydney Sport guest reporter

Kenny Jewell is a former surf lifesaver who currently lives in Newcastle. A successful musician since the age of five, he has performed with The Screaming Jets, Kamakazi Kowboys, Dave Gleeson & the Stilsons, Nat Col and the Kings, and played live on stage with members of Silverchair, INXS, The Living End, Ash Grunwald. He has also toured with iconic bands including Rose Tattoo and Boom Crash Opera. For more about Kenny Jewell, please visit his Facebook page.

Are you confident in recognising rips at the beach? Do you have any tips to share? Let us know in the comments section.

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