How To Survive Rip Current with Kids


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Rip Currents can be dangerous because they are misunderstood and difficult to spot. When heading to the beach with your family it is essential that you are aware of rip current safety. A rip current won’t pull you underwater, but it will pull you further away from shore. Do not swim against the current because it will tire you out. It is important that you know how to survive a rip current with kids.

In this post, we will cover the causes of rip currents, and when they occur, as well as what a rip current looks like so you can identify one. Learn about the size of rip tides, why rip currents are dangerous for kids, and the actions your family needs to take so you know how to survive a rip current with children. Plus, the 7 steps to rip current safety for families and the main thing you must avoid to keep your children safe at the beach.

What Causes Rip Currents?

Rip currents are powerful currents of water moving away from the shore. A rip current can occur near surf beaches with breaking waves. It is a strong, narrow, fast current of water that cuts through the lines of breaking waves and is like a river running out to the ocean. Typically, they form at breaks in sandbars, and also near structures, such as piers and jetties, as well as cliffs that extend out into the water. A rip current can sweep even the strongest swimmer out to sea.

When Do Rip Currents Occur?

Always check the wave forecast before heading to the beach. Look to see if there is a hazardous rip current statement for your local beach. If there are waves 2-3 ft. high or greater then you could have strong rip currents. Always check the tide because rip currents often occur at low tide. If you are going to the beach at low tide then be aware that strong rip currents could occur.

People often misunderstand and think that rip currents only occur during bad weather days at the beach. But this is not the case. Actually, you can have strong rip currents on sunny days and with waves of only 2-3 ft. high. This is because rip currents are not caused by the weather, they are caused by the waves, and other factors like the tide and the shape of the ocean bottom.

Rip currents can occur anywhere you have breaking waves, like large sandy beaches on the open ocean. But they can also occur where you have hard structures. Significant rip currents are more likely to occur with a strong onshore wind. Often, rip currents occur at low tide when you have waves breaking over the sandbar near shore with a channel in it.

what do rip currents look like

What Do Rip Currents Look Like?

Rip currents are difficult to identify, which makes them especially dangerous. Sometimes known as riptides, they often look like a river or a path running straight out to sea. It is easier to view a rip current from a distance and at a higher vantage point. Therefore, when you go to the beach start off by staying back from the water. Go to an elevated position such as cliffs overlooking the ocean, or the sand dunes, or the top of steps at the beach access and study patterns in the ocean.

To spot rip currents look for a break in the incoming wave pattern, flat spots in the line of breaking waves, and channels of churning, choppy water. There is a difference in the color of the water, as suspended sediments may be transported back to sea in the rip currents. Also, watch out for a line of foam, seaweed, or floating debris on the surface moving out to sea.

Rip Currents Diagram

Use this rip current diagram to gain a visual understanding of the water current and how to escape a rip current.

rip current diagram

How Far Can A Rip Current Take You?

Rip Currents can be as narrow as 10-20 feet in width, or they could be the length of a football field. On either side of the rip current, there are usually breaking waves where you can stand up and make your way back to shore.

A rip current is a natural treadmill that travels an average speed of 1-2 feet per second. But rip currents have been measured as fast as 8 feet per second, which is faster than an Olympic swimmer. Rip currents don’t pull you underwater, they just pull you away from shore. Rip currents are surface currents, not undertows. But while rip currents can move fast, they won’t take you far offshore.

How long do rip currents last? A Rip current begins to slow down as it moves offshore, but it can last from minutes to months depending on what is causing it.

Are Rip Currents Dangerous For Children?

Rip currents can be dangerous if you or your child are not expecting one, and you don’t know what to do if you get caught in one. Don’t let your guard down because rip currents can occur during otherwise good weather. They also tend to be strongest during low tide.

When you arrive at the beach with your children it is important to remind them about being safe in the ocean. Know how to identify a rip current. Take time to observe the ocean, ideally from a higher elevation, and watch the waves. Be on the lookout for breaks in the incoming wave pattern, channels of churning water, lines of foam, or debris floating out to sea.

When you go to the beach with children it is essential that you have a designated adult to watch each child when they are in or near the ocean. Make sure that your child is wearing a floatation device. And do not assume that someone else is watching your child. It is easy to become distracted on the beach, especially if you have more than one child. Communicate with the other adults in your group so everyone knows who is responsible for watching each child.

When taking your baby swimming or in the ocean then it’s vital your baby is wearing an Infant Life Vest. Even if the ocean looks calm waves could quickly come and make you lose your footing. You could be knocked off your feet in the ocean and lose grip of your baby. Therefore, it is important for your child to wear a baby life vest to keep them afloat in an emergency, and to help avoid drowning.

water safety for families

How To Survive A Rip Current with Kids

It is essential to teach your children that if they are caught in a rip current, do not panic. Stay calm and consider your options. A rip current won’t pull you underwater, but it will take you further out to sea.

You need to preserve your energy. Do not swim back to shore against the current because it will just tire you out. Trying to swim against a rip current will only use up your energy; the energy you need to survive and escape the rip current.

Swim parallel with the shore along the beach until the rip current weakens. Then swim out of the rip and begin making your way back to shore at an angle by following breaking waves towards the beach.

The safest way to help your children know how to survive a rip current is to remember:

  1. Do not fight the current.
  2. Swim out of the current, then to shore.
  3. If you can’t escape, float or tread water.
  4. If you need help, call or wave for assistance.

Let a lifeguard make a rip current rescue. Often the people who try to make rescues themselves end up being the ones who drown. Instead, the best way to help someone who’s in distress in the water is to throw them something that floats – a life vest, a cooler, a boogie board, an inflatable ball. Yell instructions on how to escape the rip current and tell them which way to swim. Immediately get a lifeguard for help, or call 9-1-1.

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4 ways to survive a rip current with kids

Rip Currents Video

To learn more about rip current safety and how to survive a rip current with kids check out this rip currents video.

Rip Currents Safety for Families

Before you go to the beach look at local beach conditions and be aware of the wave forecast. One of the best things your family can do for rip currents safety is to swim near a lifeguard. Find out if the water conditions are hazardous before entering the water.

When you arrive at the beach ask a lifeguard about the safety of the water for that day. And many beaches have a flag system to notify you if the water conditions are hazardous. If you go to a beach without a lifeguard then make sure you know how to spot a rip current. If you go in the water then bring a floatation device.

To keep your children safe at the beach it is essential for follow these rip current safety steps.

7 Steps to Rip Currents Safety for Families:

  1. Know how to swim.
  2. Wear a floatation device suitable for your baby or child.
  3. Never swim alone.
  4. Never, ever swim at night.
  5. Stay at least 100 feet (30 meters) away from piers and jetties.
  6. Obey all instructions/orders from lifeguards and posted signs. They are there for your wellbeing.
  7. If in doubt, don’t go out.

Even just wading in the water is dangerous as a wave can knock you (or your child) off your feet. If your child can’t swim, stay out of the water. A small inflatable pool can be handy for a young child at the beach. Set it up under your tent and fill it with ocean water so they can play in the water, but also stay in the shade.

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rip current safety for families

Rip Current Round-up For A Family Beach Vacation

Ultimately, you must avoid the “it won’t happen to me” syndrome. Be aware of these rip current safety instructions. Follow these guidelines so you know how to survive a rip current with kids. Teach your child(ren) these safety precautions so they know how to avoid riptides, and what to do when a rip current occurs.

When you use wisdom and proceed with caution then you can keep your children safe at the beach. If you would like more help to remove the stress and packing overwhelm of taking a family beach trip then check out the articles about Beach Essentials for Kids, and the Must-Have Baby Beach Accessories. Our Ultimate Guide to a Family Beach Vacation also includes our Beach Packing Lists. These packing lists will help you remember everything you need for a beach day with kids, so you can spend more time enjoying a beach vacation with your children.

And remember, let’s BE Family so you can enjoy the journey.

Until next time,
💕 Ruth

For more about family travel check out these posts:
Beach Essentials for Kids
When can you take a Baby to the Beach?
Family Beach Vacation – Ultimate Guide & Packing Lists
Baby Beach Accessories: The Must-Have Beach Gear

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beach safety for kids
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Ruth Hutchins grew up in England and now lives in North Carolina with her husband, Doug, and their two young daughters. They always loved to travel, but once having children everything changed because family travel is more complicated. Traveling with a baby may feel overwhelming to new parents. Travel with a toddler can really test your patience, and traveling with kids can lead to utter chaos. However, travel with your little ones doesn’t have to be that stressful or exhausting. On the BE Family Travel blog Ruth shares her parenting wins, and even epic failures about traveling with kids. She provides resources to help you feel empowered to plan a family vacation and travel with your children.