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ricki 04-20-2010 12:02 PM

Rip Current Fatality?

Portions of the following appeared in the "Accident Report" column in The Kiteboarder Magazine in the summer issue of 2009. It is directed at kiteboarders naturally enough. Swimmers should observe similar but in some cases different precautions including swimming in lifeguarded areas, staying within your abilities as well as being aware of both rip currents and precautions and still more.


A lone kiter rigged up at a beach not normally used by kiteboarders. There was insufficient wind at the time but it typically filled in for riding within a couple of hours There were no lifeguards present and few bystanders, if any. Surf was running about shoulder high with a shore break with the air and water at about 63 and 50 F. The area has powerful rip currents, extending over 500 ft. offshore and a football field wide at times. In some cases they are obvious and in others more subtle."
A satellite image of a large rip current near the accident scene. Large powerful surf, a nice run up, substantial submerged sand bars generating powerful, very long rip currents.

"Incident Summary

It isn’t known why the kiter went into the water as there were no witnesses. His kite gear remained on shore however. At around mid day a bystander saw him floating about 200 ft. offshore face down. Emergency services were called and brought the man back into shore. Unfortunately, he had apparently drowned and couldn’t be revived. It is thought that he had been caught in a rip current, was carried offshore and either worked against the current until exhausted, swallowed too much water from breaking waves, panicked or experienced some other problem. Rip currents carry water accumulated by waves inside sand bars, seaward through deeper areas between sand bars. They form when a large volume of water is forced through a narrow channel.

Lessons Learned

1.* Always kite with a buddy, be aware of their status. Learn about an area before launching and if there aren’t other kiters, they may be a reason why.

2. Rip currents are common and particularly powerful in some areas traveling up to 5 mph and hundreds of yards offshore.

3. Expect rip currents in waves and routinely look for signs of them. They may be marked a calmer area bordered by breaking waves, a column of turbid water perpendicular to shore. Rip currents can be permanent beach features at given locations and they can move around with the sand bars. Rips can set up along barriers such as piers, jetties and through inlets with tidal activity. Some rip areas are posted. Tide changes can bring rip currents particularly related to inlets or cuts.

4. Be aware of your position relative to shore using reference points. It is possible to get caught in a rip current, be swept offshore and not be fully aware of why. Stop, analyze what is going on and why. Swim parallel to shore a distance to exit the rip current, then turn and swim to shore. Do not try to swim in against the rip, a very common mistake. Kiters should maintain strong swimming skills.

5. Some rips will pull you through breaking waves, keep calm, hold your breath and duck under them. Work to not inhale water on surfacing.

6. Wear reasonable safety gear including appropriate flotation/impact vest. Keeps you warmer, protects your ribs against some wipeouts and diminishes the chances of drowning."
A small rip off SE Florida caught on live cam the day of this post in light surf
A poster from Australia, CLICK image for pdf download of full sized poster.


ricki 10-07-2011 09:06 AM

Few kiters seem to have problems with rip currents. Some surfers even use them for transport offshore to catch waves. The real problems seem to come to non-watermen, infrequent beach goers, poor swimmers, well intended rescuers who are drowned in the attempt, kids and the elderly. The following from the USLA is posted for them and folks that want to help in these emergencies.

"How to Avoid and Survive Rip Currents

Learn how to swim!

Never swim alone.

Be cautious at all times, especially when swimming at unguarded beaches. If in doubt, don’t go out!

Whenever possible, swim at a lifeguard protected beach.

Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards.

If caught in a rip current, remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.

Don’t fight the current. Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim towards shore.

If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water. When out of the current, swim towards shore.

If you are still unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself: face the shore, wave your arms, and yell for help.

If you see someone in trouble, get help from a lifeguard. If a lifeguard is not available, have someone call 9-1-1 . Throw the rip current victim something that floats and yell instructions on how to escape. Remember, many people drown while trying to save someone else from a rip current.

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