Rip Education

Rip Education and surf survival makes up a vital part of all SEI programs. Our reputation relies on the quality of our program delivery and the very content that can also save lives. (See SEI 2010 RIP survival campaign)

Below are our key points in rip education delivery, also attached in this page are media articles and links to Rip and Coastal research. We believe these articles will assist Australians to better understand the ocean.


What is a rip?

Rips work with waves, a wave is a swell generated out in the ocean - that breaks when it hits shallow water. the broken waves are described as whitewater, because the water is WHITE


No waves no rips

To describe a rip in its simplest form - it is a flow of water that runs away from the beach generated by the breaking waves. The waves break in the shallower water and the rips flow in the deeper channels


Rip's dark gaps between whitewater (waves)


How to identify a rip

Most rips sit in between sandbanks so it is quite easy to see the deeper water channels between the whitewater on the sandbanks. Because the water is deeper it is darker in colour. Most rips have feeder currents that run off the sandbanks along the beach until they flow into the main channel, because it is deeper the waves will not be breaking in these areas

Feeder Current

If you look closely enough you will see a rippled effect on the surface, because the water is running against the natural flow of the ocean, like a river. You can see the broken waves (whitewater) change back to a swell when they hit these channels


What SEI feels are misconceptions about rips and waves

People have been told and continue to be told that rips go 'out to sea" meaning that a swimmer caught in a rip will stop at nothing to get back to the beach, including swimming against a rip until drowning occurs.

Rips go off the beach not "out to sea", approximately 90% angle toward the breaking waves and end up returning swiftly to a sandbank. From here the water moves back toward the beach with the waves Only about10% of rips go out past the surf break, these usually in larger unmanageable surf conditions


Experiment with DR Rob Brander - dye reaches sandbank and heads back with the waves


Some people think that rips are associated with an undertow, and fear getting taken underwater.

This is not the case - rips do not drag a floating object under water


Experiment with DR Rob Brander - dye reaches sandbank and heads back with the waves

People think that waves are dangerous and are the cause of drowning. This is also one of the reasons why victims may choose to swim in the perceived calmer water of a rip, and why they may try to swim away from the waves when rips turn onto the sandbank


Waves are enormous amounts of water travelling into the beach, a large breaking wave can be turbulent at first, however it is difficult for most swimmers to get to this area without using a rip. Once a rip connects back into the wave area the water will push swimmers back towards the beach.


School kids doing Surf Ed on shallow sandbank, with rips to the side

Rips are not killers, they are just a flow of water, it is the action that a human takes that ultimately leads to drowning through swimming, panic and fatigue.

Take out the fear factor - "if you can float you should not drown" not "if you get caught in one of these you will drown" Most drowning in the surf occurs when the surf is no more than 3 ft, and the drowning occurs just metres off the shoreline, not out past the surf break

To escape a rip - float, do whatever you have to stay afloat, don't panic, don't fight the rip, allow the rip to take you in most cases to the sandbank (where the waves are breaking) where you will reach safety. If you are near others wave arm and yell for help, if you are alone conserve energy.If you decide to try and swim out of a rip, don't! instead - move with the current at an easy pace to conserve energy. Follow the rip to where the waves are breaking and once there - allow the waves to push you back to the beach, or even walk back if the sandbank is shallow. Make sure you follow the shallowest water back to the beach to avoid falling off the sand bank - back into the rip

The key is to reduce the potential for panic by encouraging swimmers caught in rips to stay calm, stay afloat, and signal for help.

Floating is the best way to keep our heads above water for longer. The word float is generally associated with pleasant, relaxation, calmness, and energy conservation.


Any rip educational message should provide more motivation to swim between the red and yellow flags


Why SEI thinks that the "swim parallel to the beach" message is flawed

This message is based on very old rip diagrams that show rips traveling straight through the surf zone and way out to sea, with a mushroom shaped head dispersing in all directions and carrying turbulent sand with it. The diagram is not consistent with the most recent scientific experiments, findings, pictures, diagrams and video footage including those attached to this website. We do note that some rips can exit past the surf break

Swimming is not the best way to ensure a safe exit from a rip, psychologically the word swim is generally associated with - extreme use of energy, racing, fast and thoughtless movements, effort, strain, panic, if I can't swim - I'm in trouble. This leads to a decreased ability to stay afloat
Most rip currents in Australia do not flow straight offshore. They flow at inconsistent angles to the beach which means that a person swimming parallel to the beach may actually end up swimming against the current.
Much of the water entering rips enters from the side, either from feeder currents along the beach or from draining off of adjacent sand bars. Swimmers may again end up swimming against the current.
It assumes people can swim well enough to escape a rip, which is often not the case.
It assumes people have an understanding that they are caught in a rip. Studies have shown that 60% of Australians do not know what a rip is. This does not include overseas tourists.
It promotes people to take immediate action which may contribute to panic. Panic is the main cause of rip current drowning.