A rip tide, or riptide, is a strong offshore current that is caused by the tide pulling water through an inlet along a barrier beach, at a lagoon or inland marina where tide water flows steadily out to sea during ebb tide. It is a strong tidal flow of water within estuaries and other enclosed tidal areas. The riptides become the strongest where the flow is constricted. When there is a falling or ebbing tide, the outflow water is strongly flowing through an inlet toward the sea, especially once stabilized by jetties. During these falling and ebbing tides, a riptide can carry a person far offshore. For example, the ebbing tide at Shinnecock Inlet in Southampton, New York, extends more than 300 metres (980 ft) offshore. Because of this, riptides are typically more powerful than rip currents.
During slack tide, the water is motionless for a short period of time until the flooding or rising tide starts pushing the sea water landward through the inlet. Riptides also occur at constricted areas in bays and lagoons where there are no waves near an inlet.
The term rip tide is often incorrectly used to refer to rip currents, which are not tidal flows. A rip current is a strong, narrow jet of water that moves away from the beach and into the ocean as a result of local wave motion. Rip currents can flow quickly, are unpredictable, and come about from what happens to waves as they interact with the shape of the sea bed. In contrast, a rip tide is caused by tidal movements, as opposed to wave action, and is a predictable rise and fall of the water level.
Rip currents are not rip tides. A specific type of current associated with tides may include both the ebb and flood tidal currents that are caused by egress and ingress of the tide through inlets and the mouths of estuaries, embayments, and harbors. These currents may cause drowning deaths, but these tidal currents or tidal jets are separate and distinct phenomena from rip currents. Recommended terms for these phenomena include ebb jet, flood jet, or tidal jet.
Before you go to the beach, always check your local beach conditions. Look at the wave forecast. If you have waves two to three feet high or greater, you could have strong rip currents. And then look to see if there's a hazardous rip current statement for your local beach. And then always check the tide as well.
People often misunderstand and think that rip currents only occur during bad-weather days at the beach but actually, you can have strong rip currents with sunny days and waves of only about two to three feet high. And the reason for that is that rip currents aren't really caused by the weather. They're caused by the waves and other factors like the tide and the shape of the bottom.
In terms of the tide, usually rip currents are going to occur more at low tide when you have waves breaking over the sandbar near shore. And that's the third part, the sandbars. Usually you're going to have strong rip currents where you have significant sandbar near the shore with a channel in it.
Tidal modulation: The speed and presence of rip currents on ocean beaches is related to the stage of the tide because the tide affects the amount of wave breaking, which is what drives rip currents. On beaches with a tide range of less than 6 feet, rip currents often flow faster about an hour or two on either side of low tide, when water levels are shallower and breaking wave activity is at its peak. Rips may stop flowing completely around high tide because the greater water depths can dramatically reduce the breaking wave activity and decrease any alongshore variations in wave setup or water level (see figure below)
On beaches with large tidal ranges, the tide may drop low enough that bars become exposed (dry) at low tide. In this case, rips shut off once the bars are exposed and the maximum rip speeds occur at mid tide, when the water level is low enough that there is strong wave breaking on the bars but not so low that the bar is dry. Regardless of the tidal range, rip currents have not been found to be stronger during a falling outgoing tide, versus a rising incoming tide; only the water level of the tide is important to controlling rips, not the direction of the tide.
Wave breaking shown at the same location in Duck, NC at low and high tide on the same day. Note the wave breaking over the bar at low tide (left) driving rip currents compared to wave breaking only on shore at high tide (right) and no observable rips. Source: US Army Corps of Engineers Field Research Facility
Rip currents are often incorrectly referred to as rip tides. Rip currents are not tides, so this term can cause confusion. Tides are a large-scale ocean process that typically leads to the slow rise and fall of water level over a period of 6-12 hours. Rip currents are not a rise and fall of water level, but rather concentrated currents that move water in a particular direction. As described in Section 6, the speed of rip current flow can be modulated by the level of the tide, which affects wave breaking.
Strong and concentrated currents often occur in tidal inlets, mouths of estuaries and harbor openings associated with both the incoming flood tide and outgoing ebb tide. While these currents can be very strong and also represent a hazard, they are best referred to as tidal currents rather than rip tides.
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A few observations stuck out. They learned that dredging a channel can generate a huge rip current, even with small-to-medium-sized waves. And, by installing dozens of sensors in the surf zone, they learned that the rip jet was narrower than the channel and wobbled from side to side under certain conditions. They also found that rip currents were strongest at low tide and when waves were coming straight into shore, and that small changes in wave direction cause rips to turn on or off.
Summer is drawing to a close. If you made it to the beach this year, you managed to get your tan on and survive a shark attack. Congratulations! But there is another swimming danger that you should be aware of and that is moving into its most dangerous season: the riptide.
Riptides can occur anywhere there are breaking waves, including large lakes. Spotting a rip current is not always easy, especially to the untrained eye. So be sure to heed warnings that are posted and issued by lifeguards and the like. 59ce067264