Rip Currents

What are Rip Currents?

Rip currents are powerful currents of water moving away from shore. They can sweep even the strongest swimmer out to sea.

Why are they dangerous?

Rip currents are potentially hazardous to swimmers. Swimmers who are caught in a rip and who do not understand what is going on, and who may not have the necessary water skills, may panic, or exhaust themselves by trying to swim directly against the flow of water.

Because of these factors, rips are the leading cause of drowning deaths at beaches in Brunei

How can they be spotted?
  • One of the best visual identifiers of a rip current is to look out for gaps between the waves. The calmer gap between waves may look safer for you to play without worry about waves washing over your head, but a small patch of calm water in an otherwise choppy sea is often a rip current. 

  • Look out for discolored water near the shore. Rip currents tend to drag large amounts of sand and sediment back out to sea with them, so many rip currents are easily identified by a noticeable jet of crud in the water extending away from the shore.

  • Rip currents are also common in areas with sand bars (both surface and submerged), piers, jetties, groins, and anything else that sticks out from the beach that could catch a longshore current and cause it to start flowing away from shore.

  • One of the best visual identifiers of a rip current is to look out for gaps between the waves. The calmer gap between waves may look safer for you to play without worry about waves washing over your head, but a small patch of calm water in an otherwise choppy sea is often a rip current. 

  • Look out for discolored water near the shore. Rip currents tend to drag large amounts of sand and sediment back out to sea with them, so many rip currents are easily identified by a noticeable jet of crud in the water extending away from the shore.

  • Rip currents are also common in areas with sand bars (both surface and submerged), piers, jetties, groins, and anything else that sticks out from the beach that could catch a longshore current and cause it to start flowing away from shore.

Where are they located in Brunei?
  1. Muara

  2. Meragang

  3. Berakas

  4. Seri Kenangan

  5. Telisai

  6. Sungai Liang

  7. Lumut

  8. Seria

  9. Panaga

  10. Kuala Belait

The above are low tide terrace beaches tend to occur when waves average about 1m and sand is fine to medium. They are characterised by a moderately steep beach face, which is joined at the low tide level to an attached bar or terrace, hence the name - low tide terrace. The bar usually extends between 20-50m seaward and continues alongshore, attached to the beach. It may be flat and featureless, have a slight central crest, called a ridge, and may be cut every several tens of metres by small shallow rip channels, called mini rips.

 

At high tide when waves are less than 1m, they may pass right over the bar and not break until the beach face, which behaves much like a reflective beach. At spring low tide, however, the entire bar is usually exposed as a ridge or terrace running parallel to the beach and waves break by plunging heavily on the outer edge of the bar.

 

At mid tide, waves usually break right across the shallow bar, when they are most likely to generate rip currents. The water is returned seaward, both by reflection off the beach face, especially at high tide, and via the mini rips, even if no rip channels are present. The rips, however, are usually shallow, ephemeral or transient meaning they will flow strongly for a few minutes then dissipate.

Myths and facts of Rip Currents
Myths and facts of Rip Currents

Myth 1: Rip currents pull swimmers under water.

Fact: Rip currents carry swimmers AWAY from the beach. 

 

Rip currents are surface currents. They are not “undertows.” which explained the 1st myth. An undertow is a short-lived, sub-surface surge of water associated with wave action. It can drag you down, but it’s not truly treacherous because you won’t be held under for long. Just relax and hold your breath, and you’ll pop to the surface, often on the back side of the waves breaking near shore.

Myth 2: If a swimmer got caught in a powerful rip, the swimmer can be swept out to sea forever.

Fact: Even under the worst conditions, the swimmer won’t be swept to the middle of the ocean, though it could be a long swim back to beach.

Most rip currents are part of a closed circuit, says Robert Anthony Dalrymple, a coastal engineer and rip current scientist at Johns Hopkins University. If you ride a rip current long enough – float along with it – you will usually be taken back to shore by a diffuse, weaker return flow.

The exception to this occurs during fierce storms during monsoon seasons in Brunei, when pounding surf sets up powerful longshore currents that shed turbulent eddies. The seaward-flowing arms of these swirling currents may look and feel like “rips,” but they are not part of a circulation cell that will slowly carry you toward shore. Instead you’ll be deposited outside of the surf-zone, sometimes a distance of multiple widths of it. When the surf is big, most people should stay out of the water.

Myth 3: If you don’t see a rip current, you don’t have to worry about one.

Fact: Rip currents can form instantaneously, in response to the interaction of a lot of waves coming together from many directions at once.

These wave-induced “flash” rips may last only a few minutes or they may pulse – wax and wane – over a longer period of time, says Bob Guza, a coastal oceanography professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, who has studied transient rip current formation in North Carolina and has had California Sea Grant support to study surf-zone dynamics, including rip currents. Flash rip currents are not as powerful or dangerous as other rips but they can nonetheless take people off guard and induce panic.

What measures in place in dealing with Rip Currents in Brunei?
Rip Current Safety Signage
Rip Current Safety Signage

With the government's backing from the National Beach Safety taskforce to beach managers and also our coroporate supporters, we managed to install 5 rip current safety signages on the following beaches; Muara, Tj Batu, Meragang, Berakas and Tungku where these beaches are identified as hot spots of drowning incidents in Brunei.

These signages educate beach goers on rip currents, safety tips and what to do to escape them and the emergency numbers to call for the public.

Open Water Survival Program
  • This is to address one component of the drowning chain, i.e. the inability to cope in difficulty, where the solution is to increase survival skills with an objective to promote the acquisition of survival skills

  • The program is to teach the participants key water safety and survival swimming skills in order to create safe behaviors and confidence around water with the ultimate goal of reducing the number of drowning deaths in Brunei.