Safety in the Water
In Costa Rica, the main cause of accidental deaths is not due to car accidents (as it is in other parts of the world), but rather, to drowning. More specifically, forty percent of these deaths are made up of individuals who have drowned while swimming in the ocean, most of which are caused specifically by rip currents.
What is a Rip Current?
A rip current is a strong surface flow of water returning seaward from near the shore. While the precise conditions leading to a rip current are not known, the general picture is as follows. When wind and waves push water towards the shore, the previous backwash is often pushed sideways by the oncoming waves. This water streams along the shoreline until it finds an exit back to the sea. The resulting rip current is usually narrow and located in a trench between sandbars, under piers or along jetties. While a common misconception is that a rip occurring under the water, instead of on top - an undertow - is strong enough to drag people under the surface of the water; the current is actually strongest at the surface, and can dampen incoming waves, leading to the illusion of a particularly calm area, luring some swimmers in.
Rip currents are stronger when the surf is rough (such as during high onshore winds, or when a strong hurricane is far offshore) or when the tide is in transition.
What Should You Do When Faced With A Rip Current?
1. Stay calm. Do not panic.
2. If there are others near you, raise your hands in order to notify them
3. Swim at a 45 degree angle against the current.
4. If you are tired, float until you are approximately 30 meters away from the shore (where it will be easier to exit the water).
General Safety Rules for Rip Currents
1. Swim in areas where a lifeguard is present
2. Avoid swimming great distances without supervision.
3. Read all signage displayed on or near the beaches that you are visiting
4. Ask lifeguards or local residents if swimming is safe in the area
5. Do not swim after eating.
6. Do not swim under the influence of alcohol.