DEADLY: Rip channels which travel all the way beyond the surf zone are the most dangerous.
DEADLY: Rip channels which travel all the way beyond the surf zone are the most dangerous. Contributed

How to spot the most deadly rips on the beach

RESEARCH from Sydney's Macquarie University using camera and GPS technology has revealed the most powerful type of rips.

The study combined video images, GPS-fitted drifting devices with information recorded using current meters and water level sensors to measure the power of different kinds of rip currents.

Rips are by far the most dangerous hazard on Australian beaches and account for many tragic drownings for those unfamiliar with the ocean.

It is estimated there are about 17,000 off our beaches at any one time.

The study revealed that the most powerful rips were present where no waves were breaking across the end of a channel.

Waves effectively close the channel and stop the current from travelling far offshore.

But when the channel continues without interruption the rip currents head straight out, potentially pulling swimmers well beyond the surf zone too.

These currents are also faster and more powerful because there is nothing slowing them down.

"This research will help people understand the dynamics of rips better, and could potentially save lives at Australian beaches," said Shari Gallop, lecturer in Macquarie University's Department of Environmental Sciences.

"This study is unique in that we combine video and GPS drifters to determine what makes rip currents most dangerous.

"We found that rips can be potentially more dangerous when you don't see any waves breaking across the rip channel. This is because these rips can reach past the surf zone, rather than circulating inside it.

"This simple observation may help lifeguards more easily identify how a rip will behave, helping them to protect swimmers at beaches this summer."


- If you are caught in a rip the number one rule is not to panic.

- Do not exert yourself fighting the rip.

- Do not try to swim against the current.

- Raise your arm to signal for help.

- Some rips move in circles (the ones within the surf zone) so if you float with the current it could eventually push you back to shore.

- The other option is to swim parallel to the shore, or towards breaking waves away from the rip channel and use them to help you in.

- Reassess your situation. If what you're doing isn't working, try one of the other options until you're rescued or return to shore.

- The best way to avoid a rip is to swim at a patrolled beach between the red and yellow flags.

- According to Surf Life Saving Australia, "many people think it's just tourists and poor swimmers who get caught in rips currents. In fact, it's young men aged 15-39 years who are most likely to die in rips."