Maritime authorities in the Algarve have warned beachgoers to beware of rip currents – strong, fast-moving water currents that move away from the shore and can be extremely dangerous if swimmers get caught in them.
“The most important thing to do when you realise you are in a rip current is not to fight against it, stay calm and call for help,” maritime authority chief Paulo Isabel says.
Swimmers should float with the rip current and try to escape it by swimming parallel to the beach or by waiting until it carries you out of the current, and then swim back to shore. Though it is strong, the rip current will not pull you underwater.
Authorities warn that panicked swimmers often try to counter a rip current by swimming straight back to shore. By doing so, it puts them at risk of drowning due to fatigue.
“Even an Olympic swimming champion could not beat a rip current,” says Pedro Fernandes da Palma, Tavira and VRSA’s port commander.
According to Lusa news agency, a 16-year-old drowned on June 10 near a rip current that formed at Praia dos Três Pauzinhos in Vila Real de Santo António. The beach did not have a lifeguard at the time, Lusa adds.
Rip currents usually form near piers, breakwaters and other similar structures as well as cliffside and rocky areas.
You can spot a rip current by looking for a rippled patch of sea amid otherwise calm water. There might also be foam on the water’s surface or brown water caused by sand being stirred up from the seabed.
In the Algarve, they form more commonly when south-eastern winds are blowing, which causes “more waves and agitated seas” that push the warm Mediterranean water into the Atlantic Ocean.
Paulo Isabel said while these winds have been blowing a lot this summer, the number of people rescued from rip currents has not increased compared to previous years.
Still, six people have been targeted by authorities at Algarve beaches for “disrespecting” lifeguards’ instructions.
Lusa points out that disrespecting lifeguards and other beach warnings is punishable with fines from €55 to €550.