Know your riptide, rip current and undertow

Swimmers need to know how to spot one and what to do

Swimmers in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Oregon, July 4, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)
Swimmers in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Oregon, July 4, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — With the summer weather here, more people will be going to the ocean and rivers for swimming and fun.

But the fun can turn deadly in a moment in a rip tide, a rip current and undertow. Here’s how to spot them and what to do if you’re in one.

Cannon Beach, as seen on the Chamber of Commerce website, July 4, 2014 (Michael Costello)
Cannon Beach, as seen on the Chamber of Commerce website, July 4, 2014 (Michael Costello)

Drownings this week

–A TVF&R lieutenant drowned in a kitesurfing accident Thursday. Dale Johnson was a 19-year-veteran with the department.

–In Long Beach, an 11-year-old is presumed to have been swept out to sea on Thursday. Her 10-year-old brother was rescued. The boy was found face up, alive in the water around 2:45 p.m. Officers said “it was a miracle” the boy was found alive in the water more than 30 minutes after the initial report.

Doug Knutzen with the Long Beach Surf and Rescue Team was there when the boy was pulled from the water. “It was pretty amazing that he was still floating,” he said.

–During Tuesday’s record breaking heat, Bryan Troffer said he was with his girlfriend, Lacey Keele, and her two daughters on the south fork of the Toutle River in Cowlitz County.

“She has pictures of us 30 seconds before and we’re all laughing and then 30 seconds later we’re all fighting for our lives,” said Troffer.

As he was saving the two young girls, Troffer swallowed so much water that he was in and out of consciousness for at least 45 minutes.

Scott Alexander Smith, 16, from Aloha drowned trying to save his little brother when the younger boy slipped and began sliding down the rocks into the water at Wildwood Falls on Tuesday.

According to witnesses, Smith went into the water in an effort to save his younger brother, and they both ended up going down a narrow chute of water.

The younger brother emerged from the water, but Smith never resurfaced.

–A 45-year-old man drowned Tuesday after witnesses said he jumped from rocks at Moulton Falls. Crews recovered the man’s body from the East Fork of the Lewis River.

What’s the difference

Discovery.com explains the differences between rip currents, rip tides and undertow this way:

  • Rip currents are strong, narrow jets of water that move away from the beach and into the ocean. They can flow quickly, typically around 5 miles per hour; they aren’t predictable and are a result of the shape of the coastline.
  • A riptide is caused by the moon’s gravitational pull and is a predictable rise and fall of the water level.
  • Undertows are currents that pull you underwater to the bottom of the ocean.

What to do if you’re caught in a rip current

Rip currents are dangerous, and it’s best to learn how to identify and stay out of them.

  • Keep your feet on the bottom as much as possible when swimming in surf conditions.
  • Remain calm if a rip current begins to pull you away from shore.
  • Regain your footing if possible.
  • Call for help immediately if you can’t swim well.
  • Swim parallel to shore to get out of the current.
  • Swim toward the shore once you escape the current.

“The main thing you’re going to want to do is maintain floating,” Knutzen said. “If you can stay and float, chances are you might get in a circle current and you end back at the beach again.”

But the best advice, Knutzen said, is for “people just to stay out of the water.”

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