Are Riptides and Currents as Dangerous as We Think?

In 2009, Men’s Journal published a story about a father and son swept out to sea by a riptide. It was a harrowing affair, and certainly no fluke. Along with the occasional shark attack, getting taken by a riptide is the most dangerous thing that can happen to you at the beach.

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Now, the conventional wisdom says that in order to battle a riptide, you must swim parallel to shore until you’ve busted through the thing, at which point you can swim back into the shallows. The problem is that can be a pretty tough thing to accomplish in strong surf. That’s why some new riptide research out of Australia is exciting. Reported by The Inertia and explained in the above video, the results of an experiment using GPS-equipped buoys suggests that there’s a new, more effective way to fight a rip current: Don’t.
Experts including scientists from the Naval Postgraduate School now agree that a riptide victim who chooses to float instead of swim or struggle has about a 75 percent chance that they’ll end up back in an area adjacent to where they were first standing or swimming. Most riptides recirculate, rather than just sucking you out to sea.

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Now, there is that other 25 percent, and no one is saying that this tactic works all the time, especially because beach currents vary. But it’s a huge change in thinking about how to deal with riptides, and it’s certainly smart if you’re too weak of a swimmer to rage against a mighty rip.
Just remember: You’re always at the ocean’s mercy, whenever you choose to explore it. And if a baseball player’s batting average were .750, you’d probably bet on him getting a hit.

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