Rips are one of the greatest and most common hazards on Australian beaches. Knowing what a rip is, how to spot one and how to avoid one is key to staying safe at the beach.

Can you spot a rip?

A rip is a very strong and narrow current that pulls out to the sea. It’s nearly impossible to fight against a strong rip – it can pull you away from the beach at the speed of one to two metres per second! Rips are different from undertows, as they are visible and closer to the surface. Rips are more common on windy days, but just because it’s nice and sunny doesn’t mean that rips can’t form!

What does a rip look like?

We have over 11,000 beaches in Australia with around 17,000 rip currents at any given time. Rips can change shape and location quickly and may be difficult to see.

Lifeguards and lifesavers know how to identify a rip through several telltale signs. Once you’re familiar with these, it will be easier to tell where rip currents are so that you can avoid them.

This video will help you learn how to identify a rip.

The key signs to look for are:

  • DARKER WATER MEANS DEEPER WATER. When waves crash onto the shore, they break, and all the water that they carried has to go somewhere. What happens is that they carve out a path on the sand going back out to the ocean, which then becomes deeper than the other parts of the beach.
  • GAPS BETWEEN WAVES. Spots that seem much calmer than the rest of the beach are something to be wary of! It may seem tempting to head to that one spot that doesn’t seem to have any waves, but these spots are actually a hotbed for rip currents. The reason why there aren’t any waves is because water is rushing back into the sea instead of towards the shore.
  • SEAWEED, SAND AND SEDIMENT. An easy-to-spot sign of a rip current is the sandy clouds pulling out to sea. Because of its strength, a rip can gather a lot of sand along with seaweeds, sediments, and other debris, and drag these along.
  • RIPPLED SURFACE surrounded by smooth waters. When various currents heading in all different directions are pushing towards one another, it will create a beautiful, yet very dangerous rippled effect, that is very noticeable.
  • FEWER BREAKING WAVES. The "rip area" is the deeper channel where water is on it's way out, this area won't have as many breaking waves as the surrounding surf where the white-foam-tipped waves break onto the sand.

Professor Rob Brander (aka ‘Dr Rip’) is on a quest to educate people about rip currents and how to spot them. In 2009 Rob started a ‘Rip of the Month’ feature where he posts pictures, or videos, of rip currents and talks about them. With over 150 pictures and counting, it’s the largest collection of rip current images in the world!


How can you survive a rip current?

Even the most careful and capable people can find themselves out of their limits in the water. If you are not feeling comfortable in the water and you require a lifesaver or lifeguard’s assistance to get back to shore, stay calm, raise your arm in the air and wave it from side to side. This will attract the attention of a lifesaver or lifeguard who will come to your assistance. Conserve your energy by floating on your back and staying calm.

Swim between the red and yellow flags

Lifesavers always assess beach and ocean conditions and will choose a section of the beach that is the safest for swimming. They will put up their red and yellow flags in that location and will closely supervise this area.

Watch this video to learn how to survive if you are caught in a rip.

If you are caught in a rip...

  • Relax – stay calm and float to conserve your energy.
  • Raise your arm and attract attention from lifeguards or lifesavers.
  • Lifeguards or lifesavers will be on their way to help you.
  • You may escape the rip current by swimming parallel to the beach, towards the breaking waves.
  • 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.


Next time you visit the beach - no matter where you are - make sure that you STOP. THINK. and PLAN. your visit.

Watch this short video from from rip survivors.


  • STOP before you enter the water to observe the beach, the ocean, the signs.
  • THINK about whether or not it is safe to enter the water.
  • PLAN what to do if you or someone with you got into trouble.

Samantha's Story

Samantha, Dominic and their two children were spending a perfect day at South Beach in Dunbogan, when all of them were suddenly caught in a rip. Watch this video from SLSA about Samantha’s story and remember to stop, look and plan to stay safe at the beach.

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What is a rip current?

Rip currents are one of the biggest dangers at the beach. Knowing what a rip is, how to spot one and how to avoid one is key to staying safe at the beach.

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The beach is for everyone to enjoy. Knowing how to stay safe while at the beach will make sure that you and your family have the best day possible.

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Be prepared before you head to the beach and learn our useful tips to keep you, your family, your friends and your loved ones safe when you visit our beautiful coast!


Before you visit the beach go to the Beach Safe website. Find a beach near you including local conditions, lifesaving services, safety advice and information about flags, signs, rips, and waves.