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Riptide warning in France: What to do if you get caught up

High alerts have been issued for dangerous swimming conditions on some beaches in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, after 18 swimmers were swept out towards the sea last week

A photo of a beach on the Atlantic Ocean in France

The riptides can be hidden on the surface but can accidentally carry swimmers out to sea Pic: sylv1rob1 / Shutterstock

Riptide alerts have been issued along the west coast of France, as the phenomenon is the cause of several serious incidents each year, and caused 18 swimmers to be swept out to sea last week.

Maximum alerts for riptides (baïnes in French) are in place on the coasts of Landes, Gironde, Charente-Maritime and Pyrénées-Atlantiques (Nouvelle-Atlantique).

The prefecture said that this was because of “particularly strong currents” that could risk dragging swimmers “out to sea”. It comes after an earlier alert was issued on August 20.

Riptides, which are often invisible on the surface, can form between the beach and a sand bank, but can quickly flow out to sea. 

The Gironde prefecture has asked beach users to "swim only in supervised areas" because of "particularly dangerous bathing conditions, given the combination of various phenomena: swell, waves and strong currents".

In Charente-Maritime, five communes – three on the island of Oléron (Le-Grand-Village-Plage, Saint-Georges-d'Oléron, Saint-Trojan-les-Bains) and two on the mainland (La Tremblade, Les Mathes) –  are "particularly concerned" by the alert, the prefecture said.

The alert also applies to Landes and Pyrénées-Atlantiques, where 18 swimmers were swept out to sea last week, the prefecture said.

They managed to escape the current and were swept to calmer water, where they realised what had happened and stuck together before rescuers on jet skis came to their aid and brought each swimmer back to the shore one by one.

Read more: Warning over riptides on French Atlantic coast as 18 people rescued 

Swimmers are warned to remain “between flags” if they are present, and to respect all boundaries and rules at the beach.

A full list of the beaches affected in Nouvelle-Aquitaine can be seen on this prefecture map.

What to do in case you are caught in a riptide

  • If you notice you have been caught up in a current, let yourself flow with it. This may take up to three minutes, but eventually the riptide will weaken
  • Do not attempt to swim against the current directly back to shore, as this will exhaust you
  • Keep your head above water and take deep, slow breaths
  • Once the current has calmed, swim parallel to the beach line and look for breaking waves, which should signal the edge of the current. Most riptides eventually weaken away from shore
  • Swim parallel to the beach to escape the current
  • Only then swim diagonally towards the shore away from the current
  • If you cannot break free, yell and wave your arms to get the attention of others or a lifeguard
  • If you get tired, float on the surface to rest and keep your head above water
  • Continue to wave and call for help where you can
  • Remember that riptides do not pull you underwater, only away from the shore

More tips on how to get out of a riptide, and how to identify them before you enter the water, can be read here.

Related articles

Danger of hidden currents for sea swimmers in southwest France

Warning over riptides on French Atlantic coast as 18 people rescued 

French swimmer sets new women’s record time for Channel crossing

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