real life

There's one thing that will save your life when caught in a rip.

There are 17 000 rips across the beaches of Australia at any one time, making them a danger to anyone who ventures into the ocean.

We all learnt about water safety at school: swim between the flags; raise your hand when in trouble; don’t swim against the rip.

However, according to Belinda Hartmann, a volunteer lifeguard at Sydney’s Bondi Beach, these tips are a little outdated.

“Swimming sideways’ is no longer the number one priority,” according to Belinda. In fact, the most important tip is not to panic.

Jo Robin talks through that demoralising time she worked in a swimwear shop, on Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues…

“A lot of folks assume that if they get caught in a rip, it will just keep taking them off to New Zealand, so they worry that if they don’t fight it early, they will never get out of it.”

It’s a fair enough thought. In that moment, it’s hard to think logically. You’re being sucked out to sea, and your brain assumes the worst.

“Most rips will stop pulling once it takes you past where the waves are breaking,” Belinda said.

And at most beaches, this isn’t too far from shore at all.

After a rip sucks you out, getting back in isn’t much of an issue.

“The rips will often take you out and then curve left or right and stop pulling – and that will often be a good spot to swim in from because there will be waves that can help you get in.”

It's safest to swim on a patrolled beach. (Image via iStock.)

The issue with rips, in reality, is the fear. From a young age, the language we use around rips is fearful: words like 'drowning', 'panic' and 'dangerous'.

Sure, rips can be dangerous. But so can driving a car. And crossing the road.

In reality, rips are a common, uneventful aspect of almost any beach in Australia.

Once we accept that message, and pass it onto our children... the 'stay calm' advice will be easier to stomach.

And according to Belinda, "staying calm" is the one thing that will save your life

"It's all about not panicking, and not wasting your energy."

"Rips don't drown people. People drown in rips... You're best off just conserving your energy, and floating with the rip."

The volunteer lifesaver knows exactly how to spot a rip from the shore too...

"You'll see less waves... that region might look a little bit murky because the water's moving so quickly."

It's obviously safest to swim on a patrolled beach.