A rip tide, or riptide, is a strong offshore current that is caused by the tide pulling water through an inlet along a barrier beach, at a lagoon or inland marina where tide water flows steadily out to sea during ebb tide. It is a strong tidal flow of water within estuaries and other enclosed tidal areas. The riptides become the strongest where the flow is constricted. When there is a falling or ebbing tide, the outflow water is strongly flowing through an inlet toward the sea, especially once stabilised by jetties.[1]


During these falling and ebbing tides, a riptide can carry a person far offshore. For example, the ebbing tide at Shinnecock Inlet in Southampton, New York, extends more than 300 metres (980 ft) offshore.[2] Because of this, riptides are typically more powerful than rip currents.

During slack tide, the water is motionless for a short period of time until the flooding or rising tide starts pushing the sea water landward through the inlet. Riptides also occur at constricted areas in bays and lagoons where there are no waves near an inlet.

These strong, reversing currents can also be termed ebb jets, flood jet, or tidal jets by coastal engineers because they carry large quantities of sand outward that form sandbars far out in the ocean or into the bay outside the inlet channel. The term "ebb jet" would be used for a tidal current leaving an enclosed tidal area, and "flood jet" for the equivalent tidal current entering it.

Surviving rip tides

People often drown by swimming directly against a rip current, which tires them out.[3] People are advised to not fight the current, which is too strong for any swimmer.[3] People should not try to swim directly inwards, towards the beach.[3] They should relax, and swim parallel to the beach.[3] Eventually, they will be out of the rip current.[3]

Rip tide and rip currents

The term rip tide is often incorrectly used to refer to rip currents, which are not tidal flows. A rip current is a strong, narrow jet of water that moves away from the beach and into the ocean as a result of local wave motion. Rip currents can flow quickly, are unpredictable, and come about from what happens to waves as they interact with the shape of the sea bed. In contrast, a rip tide is caused by tidal movements, as opposed to wave action, and is a predictable rise and fall of the water level.[4]

The United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration comments:

Rip currents are not rip tides. A specific type of current associated with tides may include both the ebb and flood tidal currents that are caused by egress and ingress of the tide through inlets and the mouths of estuaries, embayments, and harbors. These currents may cause drowning deaths, but these tidal currents or tidal jets are separate and distinct phenomena from rip currents. Recommended terms for these phenomena include ebb jet, flood jet, or tidal jet.[5]

See also


  1. ^ SurferToday (2024). "The differences between rip currents, undertows and rip tides". Retrieved 3 January 2024.
  2. ^ Leatherman, Stephen P. (2012-07-20). "Undertow, Rip Current, and Riptide". Journal of Coastal Research. 283 (4): iii–v. doi:10.2112/jcoastres-d-12-00052.1. S2CID 128555026.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Rip Current Survival Guide". Ocean Today. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved 28 June 2023.
  4. ^ Showman, Sally; KOIN 6 News staff (2014-07-04). "Know your riptide, rip current and undertow". Portland, Oregon: KOIN 6. Archived from the original on 13 July 2014. Retrieved 31 August 2017.((cite news)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  5. ^ "Rip Current Safety, Rip Current Science, Miscellaneous/General information, Rip Currents vs Rip Tides". National Weather Service, NOAA. Accessed 19 September 2017.