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 Wilderness | Nature & Environment : 

Understanding our major beach hazard: Rip Currents by Torsten Henschel, NSRI Station 23, Wilderness

Beachgoers need to understand and avoid rip currents and other dangerous swimming conditions in the surf. Due to prevalent winds, we are experiencing particularly strong rip currents this year.

Rip currents are hidden channels in the surf, which are hazardous - especially for children, they can occur anywhere, and tend to move position regularly.

Waves create holes in the bottom of the sand bed near the shore that may be several meters wide and form channels where water accumulates, this in turn creates strong currents out to sea.

Typically, when a person sees two adjacent sandbanks, there will be a deep channel, with a rip current, between them.
In bays, they tend to occur on both sides, moving along the rocks towards the open ocean and unless you are a good swimmer, you should not try to reach the sand bar offshore by crossing such a channel.

Rip currents are the leading sea hazard for all beachgoers and are particularly dangerous for weak or non-swimmers. They are the major cause of drowning along our coast.
Please only swim when lifeguards are on duty and swim between their safe swimming flags.

How to Identify Rip Currents (look for any of these clues)
Refer to the photo taken at low tide. The rip current runs through a channel of deeper water, which is generally darker blue in colour, the water may appear to be choppy and churning, and you may see a line of foam or other debris moving steadily seaward. Rip currents occur as a break in the incoming wave pattern – waves break over the sandbank (safe place), but do not break much over the deep channel.

Surviving rip currents

1. If you cannot swim or are not swim-fit – do not take ANY chances!

2. If caught in a rip current, remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.

3. Shout for help and wave your arm if you can.

4. Do not fight the current – do not swim against it, let it take you. It will take you no further than the backline of waves.

5. Do not swim towards rocks, if there are waves crashing onto them – the power of an average sized wave can knock you into the rocks, causing fractures or rendering you unconscious.

6. Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline.

7. When out of the current swim towards the shore.

8. If you are still unable to reach the shore, draw attention to yourself. Face the shore, wave your arms and yell for help.

9. If you are unable to swim out of the rip current or you are tired, float or calmly tread water until the rescue services get to you. You are more likely to drown when you are too tired, so rather rest and float.

10. If you see someone in trouble on our local beaches (Sedgefield to Herold’s Bay), phone the N.S.R.I. on 082 990 5955 and do not swim out to the victim if you are not a strong swimmer, as many people drown while
trying to save someone else from a rip current.

How to prevent being washed into the sea from rocks as an angler.

• If you cannot swim, do not take any chance and wear a life vest. A good rule of thumb is to only walk/stand where the rocks are totally dry.

• Be aware of the tide – is it coming in?

• If an angler must move towards the edge of the waves to cast his line, observe the waves first for at least 3 minutes to assess how frequently bigger sets of waves come through, and then cast during a lull between sets – there will always be a lull, so patience is the watchword!

• Stand on a firm and level surface when close to the waves, and look behind you to plan a quick retreat should a wave threaten you. Avoid standing on rocks sloping towards the sea – waves can rush up and wash you off more easily.

• However, do not walk or run when a wave has broken around you - stand firm until the water recedes. You are likely to slip or twist your ankle if you try to walk while surrounded by a wave.

Please assist us.

As is so often the case, the NSRI tends to be too busy saving lives and responding to people in need to do fund-raising as well. If you would like to make any type of donation, please contact Hennie on 082 990 5955 or Torsten on 082 412 8474. We appreciate all the support we can get.
What makes a NSRI volunteer?

When people think of the women and men who volunteer for the NSRI, including the team of Wilderness Station 23, they may think of fit, young people who thrive on adrenaline and enjoy riding in boats.

Every single member of the Wilderness team is a volunteer, who gives his or her time freely and without expectation, in the full knowledge that they have to undergo very stringent training, adhere to strict rules and that their lives may be at risk. The team operates as a professional, coordinated and thoroughly trained rescue service.

Our team consists of average people, from all walks of life, who have families and children, who work every day and deal with all the usual joys and commitments of life – in fact you may not even know that one of your friends or colleagues is a Sea Rescue crew member! They have one thing in common: a strong desire to assist people, who require help as a result of water-based and other incidents and emergencies. When a call comes in, they will drop everything, bid their family goodbye or inform their considerate employer, and rush to the Wilderness Beach-based station or scene. Although NSRI members are always careful and will not take undue risks, consider, for example, that next time a civilian car comes rushing up behind you with lights flashing it may just be a NSRI crewperson, desperate to get to someone busy drowning.

The Wilderness station crew includes land-based support crew, supporting volunteers (helping with everything from maintenance to fundraising), trainee crew, qualified crew and coxwains. The Wilderness station is a surf launch station, which uses inflatable boats with outboard motors, jetski, quad bikes and a pick up truck, each of these are equipped to deal with medical, water-based and evacuation emergencies. All our trainee crew undergo theoretical and practical training programs, including seamanship, maritime knowledge (including a radio licence), rescue techniques, at least Level 3 First Aid, fire fighting, boat/outboard maintenance and more, for approximately 9-18 months, before qualifying as Sea Rescue crewperson. Crew can go on to specialize, operating as rescue swimmers, helicopter crew or coxwains.

A common misperception is that Sea Rescue crew are adventure seekers, who enjoy speed on water. Consider for a moment what our crew go through: the sudden disruption of a normal Sunday, a desperate sea rescue attempt in cold and often rough seas, and the emotional and physical drain of sea-based searches in the case of drowning, often in dangerous seas. Our team becomes very deeply involved in the trauma and grief of a family, and yet has to remain focused at all times.

On the other hand there can be few moments more rewarding in life, than when one is able to help someone in need or save a life!

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