What to do when you’re caught in a rip

Life­guards saved more than 1500 peo­ple last year in New Zealand.

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The beach is New Zealand’s favourite play­ground, but it can also be a dan­ger­ous place. A fun day out at the beach turned to tragedy for 15 peo­ple last sum­mer who drowned at un­pa­trolled beach lo­ca­tions.

Na­tional Life­sav­ing man­ager Al­lan Mundy says they can­not stress enough the im­por­tance of be­ing pre­pared.

‘‘Four thou­sand vol­un­teer life­guards head out on pa­trol for the sum­mer sea­son,’’ he says. ‘‘Make sure you choose one of the 80 pa­trol lo­ca­tions na­tion­wide so that life­guards can be there for you if you get into trou­ble.’’

Last year life­guards saved 1517 peo­ple from life-threat­en­ing sit­u­a­tions and around 85 per cent of those res­cues were the re­sult of rips.

Rips are caused by com­plex in­ter­ac­tions be­tween the sea and the shape of the shore bed. As waves travel from deep to shal­low wa­ter, they even­tu­ally break near the shore­line. All this wa­ter needs to get back to sea; a rip cur­rent is this hap­pen­ing. As waves break, they gen­er­ate cur­rents that flow both along, and away from, the coast. The larger the surf, the stronger the rip cur­rent will be.

At the shore end of a rip is of­ten a calm deep pool of wa­ter ‘‘the Hole’’. It is this calm wa­ter that catches more peo­ple off guard than any other part of the rip, sim­ply be­cause of the calm deep wa­ter; it seems so tran­quil, es­pe­cially when ei­ther side of it are break­ing waves. They are dan­ger­ous be­cause when peo­ple get into them and can’t touch the bot­tom, the cur­rent will carry them into the rip chan­nel in a mat­ter of min­utes to sec­onds.

A lot of peo­ple panic when they find them­selves caught in one and they tire them­selves quickly by try­ing to fight against it. So what should you do? ❚ Don’t panic! ❚ Lie on your back and let the rip sweep you along un­til the cur­rent weak­ens. ❚ Stay calm and put your hand up and wave it side to side to at­tract at­ten­tion. ❚ When the cur­rent has sub­sided, swim par­al­lel to the shore for 30-40 me­tres be­fore re­turn­ing to shore, swim­ming slowly. ❚ If you spot some­one in a rip at an un­pa­trolled beach, en­sure your own safety and call 111 and ask for po­lice. Surf Life Sav­ing New Zealand is an es­sen­tial res­cue ser­vice as well as a char­ity. Since 1910, ex­tra­or­di­nary New Zealan­ders have been vol­un­teer­ing their time to pa­trol New Zealand’s beaches.

Every year, vol­un­teer life­guards spend more than 200,000 hours keep­ing a watch­ful eye on more than 80 beaches through­out the coun­try, help­ing to make them a safer place for Ki­wis and their fam­i­lies to en­joy their sum­mer.

Mundy says while swim­ming be­tween the flags is a well-known mes­sage, Surf Life Sav­ing New Zealand also en­cour­ages peo­ple to ad­here to a few sim­ple rules.

‘‘Be pre­pared, watch out for your­self and oth­ers, be aware of the dan­gers and know your lim­its. Learn­ing about the risks and pre­par­ing your­self will mean you and your fam­ily can en­joy the sun, sea and sand safely this sum­mer,’’ he says.

Visit sur­flife­sav­ing.org.nz to find out more and see neigh­bourly.co.nz for up­dates about your lo­cal Surf Life Sav­ing NZ clubs.

If you’re head­ing to the beach this sum­mer, make sure you go to one that’s pa­trolled by life­guards.

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