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How Do You Swim Out of an Undertow?



An undertow happens when waves crash onto the shore. The incoming water effectively pushes the existing water back out to sea. As incoming water is breaking on top, the outgoing water is underneath, creating a surge of water heading back out to sea.

In most cases, this surge is small and presents very little risk to experienced swimmers. It’s important to note that an undertow is not the same as a rip current. Both undertows and rip currents create currents that have the potential to take you out to sea.

But, a rip current happens when the waves are crashing heavily on shore. This effectively blocks the escape avenue for the water, causing it to build up and surge outward when it finds a weak spot in the incoming waves.

This surge is powerful and can sweep you out to sea. In contrast, the undertow happens across the beach and is much less powerful. However, it can still be dangerous, especially if you are a weak swimmer or you panic.

That’s why everyone should participate in community fundraising to help ensure all beaches have life savers present.

What Happens In An Undertow?

When you stand or swim at the turning point of the wave, you may get knocked off your feet. The undertow will pull you under the water.

In most cases, you’ll only be under the water for a few seconds. The important thing to do at this stage is to avoid panicking. When you resurface, you should be able to swim back to shore as undertows are significantly weaker than rip currents.

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What To Do

The most important thing to remember is what not to do. That’s to avoid panicking and trying to swim to shore. This can make you exhausted surprisingly quickly and is the main reason people drown in undertows.

Instead, hold your breath while you swim alongside the shoreline. You will break out of the undertow and be able to swim directly back to shore.

If you’re struggling to find a weak point in the current, then try swimming diagonally toward the shoreline. Progress will be slow but steady, which is the best way of surviving an undertow.

If you find that you are tiring, then simply float on your back and let the water carry you.

At the same time, you can wave your arms in the air to signal the lifesavers and get yourself some assistance. It’s also possible to tread water to help you stay afloat while signaling for assistance.

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Using Beaches With Life Savers

Even if you are an experienced and confident swimmer, when you visit a beach or swim in the sea and aren’t familiar with the area, you should always select a beach with a surf lifesaver.

They can offer the help you need to stay safe on the beach and in the water. Of course, if you’re there with children, you need to keep an eye on them at all times.

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