Break the Grip of the Rip!

Synopsis: Swimmers in the oceans and Great Lakes have to worry about currents not found in inland lakes, and one of these is a Rip Current. Rip currents are strong, narrow, fast-moving currents of water that typically form on sandy beaches (like Park Point Beach) during wavy conditions. These currents move faster than Olympic swimmers can swim, and are responsible for more than 80 percent of lifeguard rescues and claim more than 100 lives in the U.S. each year.

The Great Lakes has an average of 12 rip current related deaths every year, and in 2017, there were two in Duluth. The force of the outflowing current will move the swimmer away from shore. Swimming against this current may slow the outward pull, but since rip currents are much faster than a swimmer, this may result in an exhausted swimmer that is no closer to shore, but still stuck in the current. If you get caught in a rip current, swimmers have two options.

Many water safety organizations are recommending that swimmers not resist this force, but flip onto their backs and float with the current, while calling for help. This saves energy to keep floating. As they move away from shore, the rip current will dissipate, and often carry the swimmer back to shore with the waves. Another option for good swimmers is to swim at right angles to the current. By creating a new force at right angles to the current, the swimmer will still be moved towards deeper water, but will soon exit the side of the current, and escape.

Other Learning Stations

Great Lakes Aquarium
Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve
Minnesota Sea Grant Program
Twin Ports Rip Currents
City of Duluth – Utility Operations
Duluth Seaway Port Authority
MN DNR Scientific and Natural Areas Program
USDA Forest Service/Superior National Forest
Western Lake Superior Sanitary District