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Surviving a Rip Current continued...

So for most people, Brewster recommends swimming parallel to the shore. One doesn't have to be a very strong swimmer to do this. Rip currents aren't exactly narrow, but they are concentrated in one place. In a short while, most swimmers should be outside the current and able to make it back to shore.

Sometimes the rip current is diagonal to shore. If you try to swim parallel to shore but aren't making any progress, Brewster says, turn around and swim parallel to shore in the other direction. That should do the trick.

Saving Someone Caught in a Rip Current

Brewster literally put together the book on open-water lifesaving -- his text is used all over the world. Here's his advice on how to save someone caught in a rip current:

  • Toss something that floats to the person in trouble. Lifeguards use a rescue buoy. A life jacket would be the next choice, or any approved lifesaving device. If nothing is available, try anything buoyant. Brewster suggests tossing a sealed, watertight cooler if nothing else is available.
  • Toss a rope to the victim. This isn't as good as a something that floats, because a person panicking may not see -- or be able to reach -- a slippery line.
  • Coach the victim. Shout loudly so you can be heard above the surf. Try to get the victim to stay calm. Explain what is going on. Urge him or her NOT to fight toward shore, but to swim or wade parallel to shore.
  • Don't enter the water if you aren't a calm, confident, skilled swimmer. Even so, it's a VERY dangerous choice. "Whether to go in for a rescue is a very personal decision based on your ability and understanding of rip currents," Brewster says. "The reality is that many people in rescue attempts do drown each year. There is no value in having two people drown in an attempted save."
  • If you understand rip currents, and are a strong swimmer, you may decide to enter the water. It's best to have something that floats to hold on to. If not, a pair of swim fins can make it much easier to swim. DO NOT MAKE PHYSICAL CONTACT WITH THE VICTIM. A panicking person will pull a rescuer under water. "The worst-case scenario -- something lifeguards avoid like the plague -- is physical contact with the victim," Brewster says. Swim well out of reach of the victim. If you have a flotation device such as a boogie board or a rescue tube, get the victim to grab hold of one side. Do not let the victim grab you. Urge the victim to calm down and follow you as you swim parallel to shore.
  • Forming a human chain to reach the victim does NOT work, Brewster says. The people at the end of the chain will be in danger -- and if the chain breaks, several more people will be in trouble.

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