Rip currents ripping through Cape shores

Beachgoers are urged to swim where lifegaurds are stationed. Picture: Leon Lestrade.

Beachgoers are urged to swim where lifegaurds are stationed. Picture: Leon Lestrade.

Published Jan 7, 2024


Cape Town - The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) said this festive season has been particularly busy on the province’s beaches, with the majority of fatal incidents occurring at beaches that were not lifeguard protected.

NSRI spokesperson Craig Lambinon said that these incidents were mainly rip current related and due to drunk swimmers, although it cannot be proven.

Lambinon explained that rip currents continue to be on the coastline, where they form constantly throughout the day.

A rip current is described as a river of current produced by water moving from the beach back out to sea.

They are able to develop where there are breaking waves, with bigger waves producing stronger currents.

Craig Lambinon, NSRI spokesperson says most fatal drowning incidents are due to rip currents and drunk swimming. Picture: File

Lambinon explains that rip currents happen all the time at many beaches and are the biggest danger that visitors face in the water.

On New Year’s Day, safety and rescue crews from the NSRI, City of Cape Town, Western Cape Government and SAPS worked together after receiving reports of two separate drownings in progress on the False Bay coastline surrounding Sonwabe beach.

Four males were reported to be caught in rip currents and being swept out to sea.

On arrival at the first scene, one male, age 18, from Woodstock was found on the beach, without signs of life, while an 18-year-old and a 12-year-old, were out of the water.

A 28-year-old male was missing.

A few minutes later crews were activated about 500m away where the body of a 24-year-old man from Manenberg was found.

The man had been rescued from the water by bystanders and also showed no sign of life.

Stephen “Dassie” Guess (left) with Irafaan Abrahams (right), a day after he rescued the teacher from a rip tide. Picture: Supplied

A day later Cape sports personality and teacher, Irafaan Abahams, also shared his near death experience when he was caught in a rip tide at Scarborough.

Abrahams told Weekend Argus that his life flashed before his eyes just before experienced surfer hero, Stephen “Dassie” Guess, reached out to save him.

Abrahams, who himself is a fit man, recalled moments where he started to become tired and crampy and says it took him and Dassie around seven minutes to get out of the rip tide.

The two covered 350m battling the strong current.

Lambinon says the majority of incidents that also happened at lifeguard protected beaches resulted in quick intervention.

“This is why we urge people to only swim where there are lifeguards and between the flags,” he said.

When looking out for rip currents, this is what you should look out for:

– Water through a surf zone that is a different colour to the surrounding water.

– A change in the incoming pattern of waves (often the waves are not breaking in a rip channel).

– Seaweed, sand ‘clouds’ or debris moving out to the backline where waves are forming through the surf zone.

– Turbulent or choppy water in the surf zone in a channel or river like shape flowing away from the beach.

Beach goers are again reminded that the best resource to help avoid rip currents are lifeguards.

An illustration on what to do if caught in a rip current.

The NSRI also offered tips on what to do if caught up in a rip tide.

“The most important thing to remember is: Do not panic. Stay calm and force yourself to relax.

“You are not going to win a fight with the ocean. Swim slowly and conservatively out of the current or relax and let it carry you out past the breakers until it slacks.

“Take note from looking at the direction the current is pulling you, think of it like a river and remember to get out of a river, you would swim to the river bank.

“This means that in a rip current you should swim at 90 degrees to the direction that you are being pulled and then use the waves to help you get back to the beach,” the institute advises.

Swimmers are also reminded that a rip current will not pull you under the water, so long as you can float you will be safe until you can escape the current, by swimming to the side (out of it) and then back to the beach.

Lambinon adds that parents should also always keep an eye on their children when they enter the water.

“We know drowning to be silent, so we urge parents to always keep an eye on their kids and to swim where there are lifeguards and also between lifeguard flags.

“Lifeguards will also keep an eye out for Rip currents, and move their flags accordingly,” he concludes.

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Weekend Argus

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