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Home WRDE Rip Currents and Rip Tides: What’s the Difference?

Rip Currents and Rip Tides: What’s the Difference?


OCEAN CITY, Md.- When summer comes around, many of us flock to the beach where fun is expected, fun can be found, and fun is typically had. But there are some things that could disrupt that fun. At the beach there are two threats most people hear about often but might not know how to distinguish between: rip currents and rip tides.

Living by the beach, we have all heard about rip currents and rip tides, but did you know they aren’t the same thing?  

Rip currents are narrow currents that occur in surf zones that result in water flowing away from the shore, typically near a break in a sand bar. Rip tides, on the other hand, are very strong currents that occur as the tide pulls out of an inlet. Rip currents are what impact swimmers, while rip tides become more important when it comes to boater safety.

“Boaters have an issue because the tide’s going out and the ocean waves make for a small area of very, very unstable choppy water and we have had boats capsize small boats,” said Capt. Butch Arbin of the Ocean City Beach Patrol.

When it comes to rip currents, Arbin said, “For the Ocean City Beach Patrol and for our lifeguards along the beach, we’re concerned with rip currents. Ninety-five percent or more of our rescues are a result of rip currents. Many of the deaths around the world are caused by rip currents.”

To protect yourself, it is always important to follow the advice of lifeguards and to make sure to swim near a stand. If you unfortunately do end up in a rip current, there are some tips for you to stay safe.

“R.I.P. is an acronym that can remind people to number one: relax, don’t panic. The “I” in rip current stands for I need help, just wave to someone on the beach. “P” means swim parallel. The reason that works is because rip currents aren’t very wide — about as wide as a backyard pool is long. They aren’t a half-mile wide, they are very narrow and because of that with a few swimming strokes the person can be out of it and make their way back onto the beach.”

Arbin also noted that it is important that people not trained to make a rip current rescue should not do so as that frequently results in the death of the attempted rescuer. Rip currents occur along the beach 24/7, 365 days a year, but swimming near a lifeguard will guarantee that you and your family always have a safe and fun beach day.

Arbin said the Ocean City Beach Patrol will remain on duty protecting swimmers until the third Sunday after Labor Day.

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