How to Explain Ocean Rips to Kids

Surf Life Savers rescue

How to explain ocean rips to kids is probably one of the most important lessons you can teach a child about beach safety. Here in Australia, we are blessed with an amazing coastline of stunning beaches. Visiting the beach is a great family activity and a really fun and memorable part of any Aussie childhood. Yet with any play in or around water, there comes a risk, and education is the key to minimising these risks for the protection of our loved ones.

We have put together information on one of the biggest dangers we face at the beach and share the best explanation we have ever found on understanding ocean rips, how to spot them and how to educate our kids about them. For anyone going to the beach, this is a MUST READ and it will save lives.

Flags or no flags

We all know that swimming between the red and yellow flags on beaches patrolled by our awesome Surf Life Saving Australia lifesavers is the safest way to enjoy the sea. However, given the enormity of our coastline, only around 4% of the beaches in Australia are patrolled, and of the swimmers at patrolled beaches 60% don’t swim between the flags, according to Anthony Bradstreet, Public Education Manager for Surf Life Saving Australia. As such, in many situations, we may find ourselves responsible for our own beach safety. In those situations, it is vital to know our greatest danger and how to avoid it, as well as how to react in the scary event of facing it.

Ocean rip

Image courtesy of

Rip currents — the threat

Shockingly, statistics show that one person will drown every two to three days this summer, and that 90% of those fatalities will be rip-related. Yet according to Bradstreet, the majority of people can’t even spot a rip. Also, there are many common myths about rip currents that mean people don’t always know the best thing to do when faced with a rip.

Former surf lifesaver, Kenny Jewell, explains, ‘I constantly find myself when I’m at a beach automatically in patrol mode, and I’m always troubled seeing the amount of swimmers that enter the surf straight into a rip zone. This includes, and most worrying of all children. I know a lot of people are kind of aware of what to do if caught in a rip, but it has been brought to my attention recently that a lot of people aren’t aware of what a rip actually looks like or where the safest place to swim at the beach is if there is no flagged area.’

How to survive a rip current

Image courtesy of

Rip currents — what to do

According to Jewell, rip currents are not hard to identify. Just 10 minutes of observation before entering the surf is nothing compared to the price you could pay by rushing straight in.

Here are Kenny Jewell’s key points that will help you and your kids stay safe in the water. We have also included some helpful images to give you a better idea of what to look for.

  1. The easiest thing to remember is that often the safest/calmest, most enticing looking area along a beach is usually a rip. A rip is usually the area void of wave activity and appears darker and deceptively calmer. It can sometimes appear milky or turbulent, but it is always pretty much void of wave activity. All that water coming in via waves has to go back out somehow, this is what a rip is. (See pics.)
  2. Always take 5–10 minutes when you get to the beach to observe surf conditions and identify where these areas are.
  3. If you are caught in a rip, DO NOT PANIC. Go into floating mode and raise one arm as a distress signal when possible. See which direction the rip is taking you, is it straight out or at an angle? Once you have determined this, and if you have the energy, swim to the right or left of the direction of flow, never against it. Some rips can move at 3 times the speed of an Olympic swimmer, you won’t win! If you cannot swim out to either side of the rip, just go with it. Most rips won’t take you out very far, and will usually spit you out not long after they take you, so keep calm and save your energy for the swim back to shore.
  4. If you have kids, show them these pictures, educate them and make them aware. You can’t always be watching them, and it is only a matter of a few metres each way of the point of entry to the water that could mean them being safe, or instantly caught in a rip.

The darker/calmer areas in these images are rips

The purple dye in this image shows rip movement

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

See just how many rips you may face at a beach (this is Surfers Paradise)

Multiple ocean rip currents

Image courtesy of

Further information

To find out more about rip currents, please visit and

You can also watch the excellent and educational extended interview with Anthony Bradstreet, Public Education Manager for Surf Life Saving Australia, about rip current myths and facts at

A Video of an Ocean Rip

We really liked this video which explains 3 different types of rips but more importantly shows you video of the actual rip- it is so much clearer when you can see it

To see more pictures of rips to help you spot them more easily, check out some of the amazing images at

brisbane beach scene

Best beaches near Brisbane

Brisbane and South East Queensland have some great family friendly beaches that cater for all ages. Whether you want to just head up for the day or make a weekend or even a couple of weeks out of it there is sure to be more than one beach location that will suit your family. We have compiled a list of the best beaches here and also camping spots near Brisbane.  

About the Author
Ngaire Stirling
Owner and Founder of Brisbane Kids, Ngaire grew up in Brisbane and lives with her husband, 3 kids and too many animals. She has marketing and teaching qualifications focused on the early year of schooling. She loves long summer days, bright starry nights and working on Brisbane Kids.

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2 responses to “How to Explain Ocean Rips to Kids”

  1. Michelle says:

    This is a great article – I think I’ll bookmark it to share when summer rolls back around! We live on the Gold Coast and swim regularly yet unless you’re a surfer I don’t think many people know how to spot a rip.

  2. Kodi says:

    This really helped my friend survive a day at the beach

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