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Escaping Rip Currents in Thailand

How to Escape a Rip Current - Water current rips occur where fast-moving surf water funnels its way back out to sea from the beach.

The powerful stream usually travels through deeper channels between sand bars close to the seabed.

Following periods of strong winds and heavy rain, surge and waves rush in to landmasses breaking at the shoreline over sand bars.

Having pushed its way up to the beach, all this water must then return back seaward usually flowing downwards into deeper surf zone channels beneath the surface.

Anyone who gets caught in this specific kind of localized narrow current of water - often called undertow - is at risk of drowning. Rip current facts - they are one of the major hazards on the touristy west coast beaches of Phuket and the holiday island of Koh Chang in Thailand - but predominantly during the monsoon season from September to November.

Tips for Handling Rip Currents

How to Escape a Rip CurrentPerhaps because of inexperience, bravado, or both, tourists often try to fight the rip by swimming against the current after they find themselves shooting out to sea.

A vain attempt to struggle back to shore can often result in panic, exhaustion, taking in water, near drowning, and unfortunately far too often - death.

Even non-swimmers paddling in waist deep water are vulnerable to the power of rip channels. Bathers who are unable to swim and without some flotation device may drown as they are dragged out from shallow water.

1. Go with the Flow

Try to control the urge to panic. That is a bold statement unless you are an experienced surfer using the rip current as an effortless ride back to the take-off zone - the method known as ‘out the back’. Nonetheless, a valuable lesson is learned by adopting a similar response.

Do not fight the drag. Instead try going with the flow calmly treading water through the danger zone and staying afloat as the rip dissipates in deeper water away from the beach. Rip currents in Thailand rarely stretch more than 100 meters before they fizzle out past the wave breaking zone.

If you can tread water, float without a panic, then raise your hand and signal for help, and wait for a rescue, you should not drown in a rip.

2. Avoid Swimming Against the Rip

Even if you consider yourself to be a strong swimmer, it is unlikely you will make it to shore before you become dangerously exhausted. An Olympic swimming champion will most likely go backwards while swimming against even a moderate rip current.

3. Dealing with Waves

Although rip water channels rarely have waves what should you do if a wave breaks over your head? The best advice is to take a breath and let the wave crash over your head. Duck down and try to relax while the splash rolls over you and then pop back up at the surface after the wave break.

4. Swim Sideways

Australia is renowned for huge rip currents. Surf-lifesavers instruct people who are caught in a rip to swim sideways or parallel to the beach. The theory is that even large rips are rarely wider than 30 meters across which means you have a good chance to swim along the current perpendicular to the beach and exit the rip down shore.

Perhaps the only caution would be to avoid tiring yourself out by swimming sideways for too long. In this case, floating out to the back and waiting to be rescued might be a better choice.

Recognizing Rip Currents

Many rip currents are extremely difficult to recognize from beach or at sea level. Nonetheless, these are a few ways to help you identify some common signs of a rip current.

Rip Current Facts

Bigger surf means a stronger rip because there is more water to move back out to sea. Rip currents are at their strongest during low tide. The reason is that the water has to move through a shallower channel so there is a greater quantity of water to move out from the beach.

Typically, there is a rip running along at least one of the headlands at each end of a beach – perhaps both ends if the swell is coming in exactly front-on to the beach – most swells are slightly oblique.

A long stretch of beach (such as Patong beach or Karon beach in Phuket) is likely to have several sandbars separated by channels containing rip currents. Feeder currents running parallel to the beach close to the sand feed into rip currents. Feeder currents get stronger as they approach the large channel between the sandbars and then turn right angles and head out to sea.

Note: A rip current statement is issued in Thailand when there is a high threat of rip currents due to weather and ocean conditions.

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