In this infographic, ocean lifeguarding expert Terry Harvey outlines the anatomy of a rip current and describes the lifeguard’s responsibility for ensuring safety.

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Anatomy of a Rip Current

In addition to drowning risks associated with swimming pools, the dynamic environments of oceans and lakes include hazards associated with changing tidal and weather conditions.

Rip Currents

Rip Currents present one of biggest potential safety threats to swimmers at beaches and lakes. This strong seaward, channelization of water, caused by constantly changing sandbars, can appear without warning and overwhelm swimmers.

In these dynamic environments, Lifeguards are responsible for ensuring the public’s safety through consistent and vigilant monitoring of the waterfront, and active management of patrons.

  • The Neck – The narrow part of the rip current where the water flows very fast away from the beach.
  • Feeders – The currents that supply the rip with water and can appear on one or both sides of the rip.
  • The Head – The end of the rip current, outside the breaking waves. It can look like the top of a mushroom.

There is a shared responsibility for safety between lifeguards and swimmers. Know your facts about beach safety, the proper terminology, and industry specific standards of care.


Featured Expert

Terence M. Harvey

Terry Harvey
Ocean Lifeguarding Expert

Terry worked for Los Angeles County Lifeguard Division for more the 25 years where he reached the rank of Captain. As a Captain Terry was the (IC) Incident Commander at all emergency and rescue calls in his jurisdictional area. Terry was a lead EMT and Lifeguard Cadet Academy Instructor for Los Angeles County Fire Department. He also spent five years as the Los Angeles County Fire Department Training Coordinator, ensuring all Ocean and Lake Lifeguards stay current on CPR, AED, EMT certifications and yearly training requirements. As the Community Service Captain Terry supervised and managed all department youth programs and maintained all department community outreach programs.