What to do when you’re caught in a rip
Lifeguards saved more than 1500 people last year in New Zealand.
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.