The dangers of Rip Currents

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Tragedy at Three Cliffs Bay – please read about Rip Currents here

On the 29th July yet another tragic drowning occured at this Gower Beauty spot.

Three Cliffs Bay is next to be covered on our Gower beach blog but we thought it far more important to re-publish our blog on rip currents before that.

Whilst we wouldn’t like to presume exactly what happened at this incident, its sounds very likely that a rip current was involved.

The rivermouth at Three Cliffs Bay is a classic example of a rip current. We hope the following information helps you to recognise or escape from one should you be unfortunate enough not to spot it before you get in the water.

A Picture paints a thousand words;



Signs of rips can be ; Brown water, foam on the surface, debris floating, water surface is different from the rest of the beach (e.g flat when everywhere else has waves, rippled when everywhere else is flat)

So, what is a rip current?

Rip currents are generally caused by water leaving the beach (maybe out from a river, after a big wave or after the tide has pushed the water up and over a sand bank) and its trying to get back to sea level by the easiest way possible i.e the easiest way down the slope, similar to way a river acts. This action of heading back down the slope causes a current in a direction that may not be predicted by the unaware.

The problem is that these slopes on the beach are very subtle and often not visible in the sand by the naked eye but the volume of water that finds their path down them is so great that their effect can be like a river running out to sea. Not many people can swim or paddle their boards against a river/rip current for long without getting exhausted and that’s why they are so dangerous.

How do I know if I’m caught in a rip?

Whenever you are in the sea you should keep a constant check on where you are in relation to the beach. If you find that you are paddling or swimming in one direction but not seeming to get anywhere then you may be in a rip current and you need to make a new plan before you don’t have any energy left.

What are my options if I’m in a rip current?

As always in an emergency situation, you MUST STAY CALM.

Panic wastes energy, loss of energy leads to poor swimming/paddling technique and not making the right decisions.

Once you understand that you are in a rip current then the following graphic explains your options.


Swim sideways to the current, the strength of the rip current will weaken further from the shore. The vast majority of rip currents will completely dissipate less than 100m from the shore.

The main points are, STAY CALM, don’t try to fight against the rip current, take time to reasses, save energy and do something different than swimming/paddling directly against it.

How often do rip currents occur?

Rips can be present permanently or for medium or very short times on any beach. ALWAYS BE AWARE OF YOUR POSITION RELATIVE TO THE SHORE.

What causes a permanant rip?

A river mouth is an example of a permanent rip current. Its got a slope that channels water out to sea!

Structures such as rock projections, groynes, drainage pipes or piers often have channels to their sides that provide an easy escape route for water off the beach. These structures are easy to spot and so the rip currents should be easy to avoid if you’re aware.

How do I spot a short term rip?

Short term rips (Flash Rips) are more likely in stormy, heavy surf with long sets of waves that increase the volume of water above sea level. This, by nature, increases the volume of water that could suddenly flow down a slope on the beach therefore creating a rip.

If you’re in the water at the time it happens, you may not be able spot it forming. Sorry to sound like a broken record but……ALWAYS BE AWARE OF YOUR POSITION RELATIVE TO THE SHORE and if you realise that you are not getting to where you are trying to get to then you may be in a rip. Stay calm and swim/paddle sideways to the current.

Where can I get more information?

Coastguard, lifeguards, local surfers, surf schools, outdoor activity companies and many more, if you’re not sure then its better to ask. If you still aren’t sure then its wise to give it a miss altogether.

The ocean is a wonderful playground that gives us fantastic experiences and we want to encourage everyone to get in there as often as possible. Its a sad fact however that people get killed in it every year as it can be an extremely hazardous environment.


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