With summer fast approaching and school holidays around the corner, millions of Aussies will be heading to the beach in the coming weeks and months. Our coastline is certainly glorious, but beachgoers are being warned they can also be highly dangerous, with 125 coastal drownings last year.
One of the biggest hazards at Aussie beaches, accounting for 22 per cent of those deaths, is getting caught in a rip current, which can be tricky to spot for both experienced and novice swimmers. That's why entrepreneur Angie James raised the alarm about the hidden danger in a now-viral social media post.
Sharing a photo in which a rip current was circled, Angie explained how to spot one. "Unfortunately, it's where it looks easiest and safest to enter the sea. This is because the rip current is looping around and pulling back OUT. Hence no waves rolling IN. Never enter the sea here," she wrote.
More than 15,000 Facebook users reacted to the post, with many surprised by what a rip current looks like from the shore and others recounting their experiences of getting caught in a rip. "You learn something new every day," responded one Australian man.
How to avoid rip currents
The advice from Surf Life Saving (SLS) is to observe ocean movements before entering the water, always swim between the red and yellow flags at patrolled beaches, and follow the advice of surf life savers.
"Some key signs to look for when looking for rip currents from the beach are fewer breaking waves, sandy-coloured water that extends behind the waves, i.e. beyond the surf zone, or if you see any significant water movement by watching how debris or seaweed moves," Dr Jaz Lawes, who leads the SLS research team, told Yahoo News Australia.
"It's also important to know that coastal environments are dynamic, this means that rip currents can change their shape and location very quickly and are often difficult to see. This is why it's important to take the time to look before you run into the water."
What to do if you're caught in a rip
Swimming directly against a rip current is the last thing you should do if you're ever caught in one. "It's important to stay calm and try to relax, and not to panic. Float with the current. It may return you to a shallow sandbank, or to the breaking waves that you can then catch back into shore," Lawes explained.
"If there are people around, raise your arm and call out to attract attention. Swimming parallel to the beach or towards the breaking waves can also help you escape the rip current.
"The easiest way to avoid a rip current is to swim at a patrolled beach between the red and yellow flags, where our trained surf lifesavers are keeping an expert eye out and are close by in case of any trouble."
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