International Rip Current Stories
If you would like to share a personal rip current story, please contact: Deborah Jones. We would especially like to hear from those who have benefited from our rip current beach signs and Break the Grip of the Rip®! Brochure. U.S. rips stories are also on this site.
You can find out about rip current safety programs, videos and more outside the United States.
In the Easter holiday last year I was at Playa Maderas and went to help an American guy caught in the rip current. At the time I wasn't aware of the correct course of action and foolishly tried to help him swim directly back to the beach. I gave up trying to help him and only just managed to swim ashore against the rip tide myself. On the beach a dutch guy told me that there were 3 Nicaraguan girls just beyond where I was. We tried to summons help from the surfers. A few surfers went out to help them. Tragically only 2 of the girls were saved. The American guy got help from someone on the beach that informed him to swim out of the rip current sideways. He made it back to the beach safely. The body of the 18 year old girl was found a few hours later.
I have a house nearby in Balcones De Majagual and decided I had to do something to try to prevent this happening in the future. I have downloaded your bingual beach safety sign and used it to make a sign for the beach. My friend has just travelled out to Nicaragua with my sign and will have it erected before the Easter holidays. Please see attached drawings of the sign. Once the sign is erected I’ll email you a photo of it. I want to thank you for making your signs available to help prevent this loss of life. I think your signs are self evidently the most effective that I have come across.
We have traveled to Harbour Island, Bahamas for quite a few years on vacations. The claim to fame of Harbour Island aside from it's history is the world famous Pink Sands Beach. It is a beautiful 2.5 mile stretch of pink sand and gin clear water. The beach is never crowded as the island is small and can accommodate only so many tourists. Pink Sands is often mentioned in travel magazines as one of the best beaches in the world. There are no lifeguards or life saving equipment on the beach.
For the past eleven years we've traveled there the water has always been still and serene with small waves lapping against the shore and a delightful water temp of 79 degrees. It's a delight to swim and snorkel in. That is until we traveled there in April of 2008. Prior to our arrival there had been a storm in the Sargasso sea which eventually hit Harbour Island making the normally still ocean quite choppy and very disturbed. The beach was littered with seaweed. There were six of us in our party and all wanted to hit the beach upon arrival. I had been a surfer on the west coast and Hawaii for most of my life and considered myself a strong swimmer. In all the years in the water I had never experienced a rip current and certainly never expected to experience one in the tranquil Bahamas.
Myself and another man in our party waded out into the water. The waves were not big by standards I was accustomed to in the Pacific and felt there was no danger. My friend and I were doing a little body surfing on what I would describe as small but rough 2-3' waves. We were probably waist high in the water and took a few waves. Before I knew it we were both being pulled away from the shore by a strong current. My friend who was on the beach side of me still had a foothold in the sand and managed to struggle and make it to shore. I was now over my head in water and couldn't touch bottom. As each few seconds passed the distance between me and the beach increased dramatically. Nobody was watching me from the beach probably because they all knew I was an experienced swimmer. I have to admit that panic started to set in and I was getting tired. I remembered all the rip current rules I had learned. Stay calm and try to swim sideways out of the current. Swimming sideways was difficult because of the heavy chop so I decided to tread water and get somebody's attention on the beach. My girlfriend finally saw me and I started waving my arms with the standard distress signal. She immediately understood and starting waving her arms for me to swim sideways not knowing that I was too tired at the time to do so. By this time I had been pulled out about 200' from shore and was heading towards an area where the reef ends and the ocean floor drops several hundred feet. This area where the drop is located is popular for shark fishing. That crossed my mind.
I had no choice but to regain my composure and make a plan fast. It was getting close to dusk. I started a breaststroke sideways from the current and at an angle towards the beach. Slow and easy with controlled breathing it took me about ten minutes to finally break out of the rip current and eventually made it to shore a while later.
This experience gave me an entirely new respect for the ocean. I now take time to scan the water and look for the danger signs that I was in too much of a hurry to look for on that day.
I've attached two photographs of the Pink Sands beach. One is a typical serene day at the beach and the other was taken about two minutes before I entered the water.
Rip Current sign localized in Traditional Chinese can be used in Taiwan, as well as in Hong Kong and almost every Chinese community all around the world.
"We had several rip current victims in Taiwan year after year. So I decided to localize the NOAA Rip Current sign into Chinese and share it on Facebook to avoid another tragedy."
Jeff Wu "A 'clear ' picture is worth a thousand words indeed". "It's so incredible that the localized sign had been shared 1200 on Facebook today". (Within 24 hours.)
Gianluca Serra, Samoa
SURVIVING A RIP CURRENT IN LALOMANO, SAMOA
Some days ago I was in a meeting and the thought that my chair could have been easily empty distracted my mind for a while - in other words I was just enjoying the tangible and mere fact that I was still alive.
Few days earlier, on Sunday 13 May 2012, I was spending a week-end at Lalomano, in south-western Upolu (Samoa), enjoying the Aleipata Marine Reserve with my family. I love and respect the Ocean, I have a sacred fear and attraction for it. As a marine biologist, I have experience of temperate seas (Mediterranean and South-eastern Pacific); while I do not have experience about tropical seas and coral reefs.
I took the sea in late morning, while the tide was mounting, with the aim to snorkel along the coral reef-- taking the opportunity that the reef is so close to the beach in that part of the coast. I wore the mask and the snorkel, but not the fins (I thought I would enjoy some swimming). I then started enjoying the sight of the corals when, as I approached the rip of the reef, on surprise, I was pulled by a strong current. Like taken by a sudden river flood I was swiftly and helplessly pulled across the rip towards the open sea, passing through turbulent and life-threatening waters.
The speed at which I was drawn was overwhelming: I could have a clear sense of it by watching the corals underwater, beneath me, that were “running” just opposite to my movement direction – but I knew that as a matter of facts it was me moving swiftly towards the high seas!
In the attempt to escape the ambush, I tried to desperately swim obliquely away from the current, but helplessly: the current outpaced me easily. At a certain moment I almost thought that I had made it--only to realize that I was already caught it again by the monster. I cursed my naivete for not having worn the fins--had I worn them I probably would have made it to escape the current.
I paid this desperate attempt of escape with physical exhaustion and breathlessness. Therefore I found myself struggling to float, with the mask misted, across whirling and dark waters. Meanwhile I had lost sight of the beach. The panic started to pervade me quickly. In a period of about 15 minutes, that seemed to me an eternity, I started to think that I would have not made it this time. I was inexorably travelling, at high speed, towards the high waters of the legendary southern seas.
Always been quite confident about my swimming skills, that morning I had to learn the hard way that, due to panic and breathlessness, floating can become a difficult matter, especially when dealing with agitated and running waters. The feeling of vulnerability and of not being able to make it infiltrated gradually inside me like a dark and bitter desolation. Worryingly, I was already starting to swallow some sea water at times. In those moments I began seriously thinking that I would get drowned shortly.
Here my thoughts during those moments. “Well, I might have to surrender, I will get drowned shortly. Gosh, look at that, dying of a violent death, just today, on this beautiful day and at this marvelous beach. Death ambushed me without possibility of escape. I just have to accept this. Everything will be over soon, I may not suffer much during the process, I am so weak and tired... Luckily I have a baby that will console my relatives about my premature death.” By then a melancholy veiled my inner side, like a large cloud, at the thinking that I would have never seen her grown up, never get to know what kind of person she would become - never been able to talk with her.
Meanwhile I was getting further and further away from the coast, the beach had become thin and far, I could barely see it through the steamed mask and the waves surrounding me. The green islet of Nu’utele that I had admired from the beach early that morning had suddenly become enormous in front of me-- startling evidence that I was getting increasingly offshore. I had been informed that sharks cruise across the deep channel separating the islet from the shore (and I even had heard of a report of a shark fatal accident in that area long time ago)--but in those frantic moments this was my last concern, as the risk of getting drowned was the most imminent one I was facing in that very moment. Just for an instant I contemplated with my fantasy that a dolphin could rescue me, like seen in movies (yes, even approaching the end, I was contemplating and gazing at times).
Everything looked like a lethal plan to eliminate me. But suddenly something aroused inside me, it revolted against this deadly resignation and torpor. Perhaps really the idea that I would not be able to see my baby growing up--something that suddenly became unbearable to me. I then shout to myself that I should not surrender without a fight. I committed to myself that I should recover some clear head, even though I was still so scared. I reminded myself what I have always thought, that one should respect but not be scared by the sea; that one should abandon himself to its power, and let be drawn by it; just hoping that it would be merciful. I knew by experience and training as scuba diver that the more relaxed the more able to float naturally we are--scare to death only makes one heavier, and pushes one underwater.
Had I still have a chance to survive, that was just to attempt to calm down, to get rid of the panic and to start saving physical energies that I could possibly use later in the attempt to swim back to the beach. I also resolved to halt uncoordinated swimming and to restart swimming properly. I decided that since that moment on I would just try to float, seconding and abandoning myself to the current. In so doing relaxing a bit my muscles, my hearth and lungs. Who knows, perhaps somebody from the beach had seen me: I was also nurturing the hope that my partner had made an alert call and that perhaps a kayak would have popped out across the waves to rescue me.
From that moment on, I started to float, abandoned in the arms of this wild ocean current, heading directly towards the cobalt blue immensity. I have then spent some time absorbed and lost in watching the big sky and the oceanic clouds above me, floating like a relic, while I was trying hard to push back and neglect the thought that I could well get lost in the endless expanse of the high waters where anybody would have never found me-- not even my body! This way, still embraced by the wicked arms of the current, I manage to miracously calm down and relax my inner side (at least relatively).
Little by little, nonchalant (almost in the fashion of not attracting too much the attention of the current), I restarted swimming using low-energy ways – one of them being an invention of mine from some time ago, the “jellyfish style”. After some time I realized that I had actually entered the flow of the big oceanic waves heading back towards the coral reef. That stretch of the coast is considered by surfers as a good one: in fact, waves were quite impressing. The first one that hit me was powerful and drew me ahead for a while. You might be surprised in learning that I was not at all scared to get drowned while swept by one of this big waves, or to be smashed onto the reef: I was instead silently rejoicing because that scaring ride heading offshore was finally over, I had finally escaped the grip of the current – and I was eventually heading back towards the lagoon, the beach, life, my little one...
Swimming pushed by the waves from my back I managed to pass over the reef without major physical damage, and enter again inside the lagoon. From which, with the last energies, I reached the beach. This nightmare has lasted about 45 minutes. Getting out from the water I felt my hearth was hurting due to the physical stress. I was exhausted and still incredulous to have made it.
First thing, I went to give a kiss to my baby - almost feeling I undeserved her love for my thoughtlessness. It was then that I learnt that my partner had followed my odyssey offshore by binoculars but only the second half of it, when I was trying to relax and let the current do its work. So she told me that, despite I looked so far away and this worried her deeply, she thought I was doing fine. And she judged that she should not call for help--she was more worried I would not appreciate to see people coming to help! I certainly should have waved a hand when I was in peril: but during that time my partner was not looking at sea anyway, as she was caring for the baby. And on the other hand I was too focused on not getting drowned.
Once enjoyed for a while the pleasant feeling of having narrowly escaped death, I was puzzled to understand what kind of current had captured me. A colleague of mine, a marine biologist expert of reefs, explained me the phenomenon of the rip currents. In the following days I have also consulted internet and became fully knowledgeable about them. I learnt in horror that these currents are the n. 1 cause for drowning in tropical waters of USA, New Zealand and Australia. I read real stories, posted at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration web site, that were closely matching mine. I learnt horrified that even very experienced swimmers, and in fact even Life Guards, get drowned often in such conditions.
I have certainly been unwary. Actually before jumping in the sea I had thought to ask advise from the owner of the resort, but then I saw people that were snorkeling already at the reef. Also I thought mistakenly that if there were currents those should arise only at low tide. Not to mention that I had been snorkeling already at a rip of a coral reef months before, in Samoa, without experiencing any current. I have now learnt, literally the hard way that the rip currents originate at the mid point between the low and the high tides--both when it rises and when it lowers.
I have to acknowledge that overall the vast Ocean was quite indulgent with me. Yes it controlled the brutal game from the beginning until the end. It was the Ocean itself who determined my fate. After scaring me to death, it pushed me towards salvation. I have interpreted, a posteriori, what has happened to me. The current getting out from the reef is at its maximum strength at the rip’s channel. After some distance from the rip the current decreases in intensity and gradually stops heading offshore, becoming probably fringed, and it turns to the sides. At that point, having saved some energy, I was ready to restart swimming, supported by the waves. Certainly had the current continued to push me constantly offshore I would not be here now telling the story.
And telling this scary story to as many people as possible, I promised to myself, is the tribute I should pay for my salvation. It is unbelievable that there is no alert sign at the beach and resorts of Lalomano. Especially considering that, as I have learned after the accident, during the past 4 years at least another two persons drowned in that very spot of the coast caught by the same rip: a tourist from New Zealand and a Japanese UN officer--whose body was never found although extensively searched by helicopter.
Just some awareness could save the lives of many other people visiting Samoa in the future. More vulnerable are those visitors, like myself, coming from the temperate regions of the world where coral reefs and very strong rip currents do not exist (Europe, Japan etc.). I will do my best to raise the awareness on this issue here in Samoa--and on the need to place alert signs. Especially at those beaches were fatal accidents have already occurred and that are known to have dangerous rip currents.
Real Life Story: Stephen, New Zealand
On the 3rd of January 2012, a swimmer drowned on my local beach Papamoa Beach, New Zealand. With this knowledge, I went swimming in the ocean the next day with my two daughters not far from the previous day's incident. I know about rips and their power having watched Phia Rescue on local TV. I was swimming in knee deep water when suddenly I was swept out to sea in a rip. Keeping fairly calm, I knew I was in a serious situation and I could see my daughters watching me as they stood on the beach. Once the rip had spat me out a couple of hundred meters, I began to side stroke parallel to the shore line. At first this didn't work, but eventually I found a line of water with less resistance. A couple of waves crashed over my head and I swallowed some sea water and I was getting tired. I knew my only chance was self rescue and eventually I swam behind two waves which allowed me to touch the bottom.
From this experience I will always take a mobile phone to the beach, remind my daughters that I am not super daddy, and to get immediate help. Please learn about rips, make sure you have a good level of swimming ability, and discuss every time with your family what needs to happen in a survival situation. Hopefully, you will never need to experience this.
Real Life Story: Jennifer, Ireland
I watched a BBC program about rip currents and at the end of the piece the presenters asked viewers to email their experiences of rip currents. Rip currents are prevalent along the north coast of Ireland and are well documented in a book, "Shifting Sands" a study of the coast of Northern Ireland from Larne to Magilligan by Dr. Bill Carter.
I had the frightful experience of being caught in one at Castlerock beach in the summer of 1995. It was a lovely day and lots of people were in the sea enjoying themselves. I was not very far off the shore, but when I tried to put my foot to the bottom to walk in I could not. Initially I was unfazed and tried to swim ashore. After a while I realized that I was not making any progress, and in fact was being carried out to sea. I was tiring and shouted for help. A young man tried to help me, but lost his grip and ran off up the beach to get a lifeline. I decided to float on my back to conserve my energy until he returned, but time went on and there was no sign of him--I was floating further out to sea.
It occurred to me that perhaps he thought that he had pulled me to my depth and that he was not coming back. I realized that if I did not want to float out to the mid-Atlantic, I was going to have to take responsibility for myself. I was tired and knew that my breast stroke was weak and ineffective against the current, so I continued to lie on my back and flailed my arms madly in a back crawl. After a while I put my foot down and felt the sand. I was able to drag myself ashore and as I did the young man returned with a lifeline. I did not need it, but shouted to him to throw it to another woman who had got into difficulties. It ended up alright for us, and we were taken to a hospital for a few hours observation.
What I learned from this experience is that anyone caught in a rip can save themselves by not panicking and swim back to shore at an angle. By doing the back crawl, I did not see what direction I was going in and ended up swimming at an angle back to shore. When I had been trying so hard earlier with the breast stroke, I had been trying to go perpendicular to the shore and this got me no-where.
Real Life Story: Cecilia, Brazil
Hi. My name is Cecilia and this is my story of being caught in a rip current. It was a beautiful Sunday morning in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. After shopping at the Ipanema art festival, I went to the beach with my sister Cory and Uncle Alex. We were sunning ourselves about noontime and I went to the water to refresh myself.
I was going back to my spot on the beach but my sister decided to jump in the water and she asked me to stay with her. We jumped in the water together, diving under the first wave. It wasn't big at all, but soon after that I couldn't touch bottom. In a matter of seconds I could see my sister near shore but I realized that I was being pulled further away. I stayed very calm and thought "okay, something is wrong but I know how to swim so I can't panic." I tried to float so I wouldn't get tired but the distance between me and the shore was scary.
I never screamed for help, but my sister started screaming for me! I could see Uncle Alex getting up and going to get my sister from the water, both looking at me very worried. I tried to swim toward the beach but it was hopeless, I didn't advance at all. Two guys playing beach tennis realized I was trapped in a current, jumped in the water immediately and swam to me. They grabbed my arms and got me back to shore. I was very shaky when we got there, we all were. Thanks to those guys I'm here today.
The next day, we took a tour to the tropical islands and the bus picked us up from Ipanema Beach. The guide explained that in the local native language, Ipanema means "place of bad luck." Many of the Indians that went there to fish, drowned because of the "undercurrents." It was truly amazing how I got pulled such a distance in so little time. Thank God I'm here to tell this story!
This incident occurred many years before I met my husband. Shortly after we were married he began a study of rip currents in east central Florida, not knowing anything about my brush with a rip current in Brazil years earlier!
Real Life Story: Paul, Brazil
My wife and I were caught in a rip current in September 2000. While living in Brazil on a work assignment with my company, a large group of friends and my wife and I decided to getaway to an isolated beach resort along the coast of Bahia. For the most of the morning we were content lying out on the beach and watching the others trying to surf and play in the ocean. We did notice that the surf was particularly rough, and that the surfers could never quite swim out past the breakers; however, as the sun kept beating down on us, we decided to try to go out and cool ourselves in the surf.
While standing in just more than knee deep water, it seems we were suddenly pulled into a quick moving rip current. From one step to just the next, we could no longer touch the ground and were quickly getting pulled out into the 3-5 foot high violent waves of the incoming tide. Our attempts to swim directly back to the shore seemed to be a waste of energy as we continued to be pulled further away from the shore. After realizing we were being swept away, my wife's immediate reaction was to clutch onto me for safety. Realizing how dangerous this was, I reassured her not to panic and to tread water. In a previous experience while fishing in the U.S. I was caught in a current and learned that you should try to swim at an angle to the shore to escape the current.
We attempted to swim parallel to the beach to get out of the current, but the repeated waves and strength of the current still kept us from getting anywhere. Eventually all we could manage to do was tread water, hope for a breath of air between the waves which would crash and tumble us around below the surface, and scream for help at the top of our lungs when we surfaced. We managed to stay afloat, but with each passing moment we thought it might be our last. After what I would estimate would be near 15 minutes struggling to stay afloat and near the point of unconsciousness, I finally felt my foot drag the bottom. Right at that moment there was a rush of our friends who had finally noticed us and came running out to pull us back to safety on the beach. I guess what happened is that we stayed afloat long enough to reach the end of the rip current. Then we essentially became like driftwood and were washed back to the beach. The only answer that my wife and I have is that it is a miracle by the grace of God that we survived and we are thankful and blessed to be alive.
There were some immediate and even delayed consequences to the incident. Being near unconscious, I was immediately rushed to a nearby medical clinic and was treated with an IV to help stabilize my fluids. Also, a few nights after the incident, my wife was unable to sleep. She could not lie down or stand up without severe chest pains. The hospital results indicated that she suffered a respiratory infection most likely caused by bacteria in the water that was swallowed during our incident.