Undercurrents, which run under the surface of the ocean, are essential to the ocean's circulation of heat and nutrients and are not always dangerous. However, strong undercurrents known as rip tides or undertows may present a risk to surfers and open-water swimmers. Aggressive undercurrents can pull swimmers out into the ocean and into potentially dangerous situations. Therefore the possibility of the presence of undercurrents must always be considered when recreating in the ocean.
Proceed with Caution
The most important tip for avoiding undercurrent is to use common sense and caution in your open-water swimming practices. Swim in lifeguard-patrolled areas and inquire about conditions before entering the water. Use the buddy system and enter the water slowly, taking note of any strong pulls in the current before stepping in deeper than knee high.
Swim with Your Eyes
Examine the water before you enter. Are there other people swimming? Is the water choppy and churning? Does it seem unusually calm? Are there patches of unusual colors? All can be indicators of an undercurrent.If there are mid-sized, evenly breaking waves and other people swimming, feel free to jump in and join the fun. However, if the conditions seem unusual or hazardous, seek out a professional lifeguard before entering the water.
Know What to Do
If you do get caught in an undercurrent, don't exhaust yourself trying to swim against it. Try to get the attention of friends or lifeguards onshore by waving your arms above your head and shouting. Attempt to swim perpendicular to the direction of the undercurrent. Usually rip tides exist in patches, and if you can swim out of the patch you may be able to return to shore unassisted.
Article Written By Caroline Schley
Based in New York City, Caroline Schley has been writing articles on fitness, social interaction and politics since 2008. Her articles have appeared in "The Tahoe Weekly," "Second Line News" and websites, including Eatthestate.org. Schley graduated from CU Boulder in 2005 with a degree in environmental science.