Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Boaters Beware The Deadly W

In his article this week, Captain John explains how to deal with dangerous rip currents ashore and afloat...

Guest blog by Captain John
Captain John Jamieson, a regular contributor to the Daily Boater, is author of Seamanship Secrets and publisher of the popular boating education website SkipperTips.com

Boaters should be aware of rip currents near shore. Photo © Nautical Sites Media

Did you realize that rip currents close to beaches can create extreme hazards for coastal cruising sailors? Learn to avoid these deadly navigational hazards...


Construction of "The Deadly W"
Rip currents form in a narrow tongue-shaped indentation between the beach and breaker line. This deep water tongue has three parts--a feeder band near the beach, a narrow neck between the breakers, and a wider pocket just past breaker line.

Imagine these breakers moving down each side of a giant "W". As they hit the beach, the water curves around and pours into the feeder bands (bottom of the "W"). It squeezes through the narrow neck (middle of the "W") as a rip current, heading back out to sea. Just past the shoals, it dumps into the wider pocket (mid-point of the "W") at the end of the tongue. Here, the current weakens and dies a quick death.

Identify rip current areas on your navigational chart
Most charts do not show rip current areas, so you must be able to locate these yourself. In an earlier article (see reference article at bottom of page), we discussed the meaning of different colors on a nautical chart.

Green signifies shoals, like coral reefs or sandbars. Look for any green areas on your nautical chart that show gaps between them. These are the best indicators that rip currents might be present. Steer a compass course to stay well clear of such areas.

Brief your crew before they go ashoreBefore your crew goes ashore, ask them if they intend to swim, snorkel or surf. Make sure they understand these simple but vital steps to survival in areas prone to rip currents.

1. Stay clear of calm areas between the breaker lines. These often signal the presence of a deep water feeder pocket. Try to use beaches that monitor and warn of rip current conditions.

2. Turn and swim toward shore. If unable to make headway, turn parallel to the beach in either direction. Swim for one to two minutes.

3. Turn toward shore again. If unable to make headway, do not attempt to continue. Turn parallel to the beach and swim in the same direction as before. If tired, flip onto your back and float to conserve energy. Continue this process until you can swim to shore without fighting any current.
 Captain John’s Safety Tip Summary
Learn how to identify and stay clear of rip currents. Keep your crew safe whether ashore or afloat with these easy steps to deal with nature's awesome but deadly "W".

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