According to the YouTube video Rip Currents: How to Survive the Deadliest Ocean's Trick, a rip current occurs when there are two circles of water spinning close to shore in opposite directions such that the water between them is flowing away from shore. My question is

Is it possible to put yourself in a position where you're inside a spinning circle of water associated with a rip current and there's no way to escape from it without swimming underwater until you're rescued?

I don't know if that's possible or not. Maybe the water on the surface in a spinning circle is flowing around the circle and towards its centre and the water below the surface is flowing away from the centre. I won't get into the question about whether it's possible to escape the circle by swimming underwater. I think in that situation, the best thing is to swim directly away from the centre and not to swim against the current and let yourself keep being dragged around in circles. Even if you do that, the rate that water is flowing towards the centre might still be too fast. This is pretty much a yes no question so I think it should be easy to provide an answer that actually answers my question. Researchers might then be able to use the answer to invest in research on the best strategy to escape from a rip current.


2 Answers 2


Ok, i try an answer based on your clarification.

Diving in a straight line in such a regime is near impossible, because sight is obstructed. A specially trained free diver may have more of a chance but will have to go to the surface several times.

Now let's assume that an unlucky swimmer finds him-/herself in exactly the depicted situation and quickly analyzes and realizes what's going on (unlikely). If they are cold blooded enbough they can try and swim to one side, then with the stream either once around or back again towards the beach. But ... things aren't usually like in a picture book. There are coast parallel streams, waves and rocks can make it difficult to get out of the water unhurt, and maybe the stream turns too far outside or not at all. There may be undertow or a breaking wave throws the swimmer on the rocks. And when outside, even in 20° warm water the survival chances are low, until a helicopter or the rescue boat arrive. And even then, finding a head of a swimmer between the waves is pure luck for the rescue forces. People have actually drowned in the middle of regattas and dense trafic searching for them. That is why it is strictly forbidden to go overboard ;-)

There is a reason why people do die in such or similar situations. In any case, the answer to your question is "Yes", a swimmer can easily find himself in a situation where reaching the land is impossible. A snorkler with fins may have better chances.

Edit: just so that you know what i am talking about, 3 random videos. Medium conditions, waves 1-2m. Dynamic conditions, waves 6-8m. Calm conditions, .5m waves.

  • $\begingroup$ Although I won't do it right now, I might later review this answer more slowly and carefully to see if I can figure out the details of the situation that I was looking for by reading this answer or whether it was too unclear for me to be able to. After I'm not able to, I might tell you what I'm still missing but I can't guarentee that I will. $\endgroup$
    – Timothy
    Commented Dec 7, 2019 at 0:55
  • $\begingroup$ lol, looks like i am spending too much time here ... $\endgroup$
    – user18411
    Commented Dec 7, 2019 at 9:16
  • $\begingroup$ I'm looking for more details on how currents work and why you think they can't make it back to land. $\endgroup$
    – Timothy
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 22:19

Yes, it is possible to get trapped in a rip current, particularly if you are a weak swimmer. There are so many variables, e.g. speed of current, ability of the swimmer, his position in the current when he realises he is caught, and so on. It is impossible to recommend one escape technique which fits all situations. Don't try swimming underwater, that would be very dangerous. You will need all your breath and reserves of strength to keep you moving on the surface. Try to keep a cool head and not to panic.

If you are a strong swimmer and the rip current is only one or two knots, then a sprint for the shore against the current will very likely succeed, but if you find you are making no headway and becoming tired, better to go with the flow. There is no way of judging the speed of the current until you pit yourself against it. For a weak swimmer, this will be very alarming, so he should concentrate on keeping afloat and let the current carry him in a circle. With luck, the people on the shore will organise a rescue.

If the current has carried you right around and you find yourself approaching the shore, it would probably be worth making an attempt, this time with the current instead of against it, to sprint for the shore. There are sometimes notices on the shore warning against dangerous currents. Read these notices before going into the water.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Cost the lifes of 1-2 hap- and careless tourists here (Puerto de Tazacorte) each year ... $\endgroup$
    – user18411
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 10:44
  • $\begingroup$ I guess you meant people can sometimes get stuck because they don't know what to do. That's not actually what my question was. My question was whether it was possible that somebody who can keep swimming a really long time but cannot swim very fast in any type of rip current could put themself into a spinning circle of water and then literally be unable to escape without swimming underwater because the water on the surface is flowing towards the centre. I thought I made it clear what my question was by putting it in a question box. I'm not trying to criticize you. I'm trying to justify myself. $\endgroup$
    – Timothy
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ If it's still not clear to most readers, I don't know what I can do to fix up my question although I'd probably have to ask a new one because the edit might invalidate your answer. If you don't know the answer to my actual question, then you don't need to write an answer. If you write an answer, I cannot check the accuracy of the answer because I don't know enough and don't want to invest a huge amount of time into researching rip currents and am trusting you did your own work to see that it's an accurate answer and if you take for granted that I'll catch a problem, the problem will sit there $\endgroup$
    – Timothy
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ unnoticed. If you do answer my question by stating that sometimes you cannot escape a circle of water without swimming underwater, you could make it neutral and the fact that you can't escape without swimming underwater is not saying you should swim underwater. However, maybe the world could organize a new global plan where if somebody normally has the ability to swim 5 km on the surface and they get trapped in a circle of water, they will yell for help and then somebody with good hearing will call 911 and get a police boat to rescue them. Once when I was swimming in the deep end of a $\endgroup$
    – Timothy
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 17:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Timothy, I primary agree with Michael's response. It is possible to get caught in the vortex but primarily because the vortex is very large, a person can run out of energy before coming around. The path out will vary due to local conditions. The video is very "ideal" depending on the shoreline the outflow, or rip, can lead around rocks to the next bay, or rips can be tied together along the shore. I haven't heard of anyone diving under to excape a rip, they are too big. $\endgroup$
    – user824
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 20:06

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