Swimming in the ocean; managing rip currents and other hazards

Swimming in the ocean is a blast. In addition to the freedom of swimming without boundaries, and the beauty of the marine life, there’s few things better than the rush of riding a wave into the beach.  This is the season many of us in the northern hemisphere start hitting the beach and participating in open water swimming events.  Yet along with the the fun and excitement of swimming in the ocean there are potential hazards that even the best swimmers need to manage and avoid.

First of all, although obvious, swimming in the ocean is not swimming in a pool – the dynamic nature of the waves, the currents and changing weather patterns make the ocean far more dangerous.  But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t swim in the ocean, it demands you develop an understanding of currents, bottom conditions, tidal changes and surf forecasts.  Here’s our suggestions for making your ocean swimming safe and fun.

1. Familiarize yourself with the conditions.  Ask the lifeguards and locals about hazards and the best places to swim.

2. Know your limits.  If the conditions seem beyond your skill level then stay out of the water or find another beach where the waves are smaller.

3. Know the bottom conditions and NEVER dive head first into shallow water.  The best way to enter the water is wading or running until you are in thigh high water and then dive under the waves with your hands in front of you.  Be especially cautious near reefs and rocks. Diving head first into the water can lead to serious head and neck injuries.

4. Rip currents can be seriously dangerous and you should know how to spot them and how to swim out of them.  Rip currents are formed by the water which is pushed up on the beach by the surf as it makes its way back into the ocean.  In many ways rip currents are like a river pulling back into the ocean.  These currents are most prevalent near jetties, piers and breaks between reefs.  Rip currents also develop in breaks in the sandbar.  Rip currents are most powerful following sets of waves and when the tide is going from high to low.  The water in a rip current often looks murky and choppy.  Also, waves tend not to break in a rip current. If you’re not knowledgeable in spotting the currents ask the the lifeguards.  If you find yourself caught in a rip current don’t try swimming directly against the current.  Swim parallel to the beach until you are clear of the current and head then swim into the shore.

courtesy of the United States Lifesaving Association

courtesy of the United States Lifesaving Association

5. Don’t swim alone.

The ocean is a great place but it demands respect.  Respect the conditions, respect the environment and heed the advice of the locals and you’ll be set for an excellent time.

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About Mike Lewis

Mike Lewis

Mike Lewis is a freelance commercial, sport and lifestyle photographer based in San Diego.  Mike began making photos in the early 80’s and immersed himself in all aspects of the photographic arts.  Mike’s professional career in in photography began after 12 years working within the United States Olympic movement; he …

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