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Warning over riptides on French Atlantic coast as 18 people rescued

The swimmers were carried away by the current off Biarritz. We look at the riptide signs to look out for

A warning has been issued over the dangers of riptides along the Atlantic coast this summer Pic: Casper Geurds / Shutterstock

People swimming in the sea off Biarritz (Pyrénées-Atlantiques) have been warned about the danger of riptides, as 18 people had to be rescued after being carried away by the current over the weekend. 

The riptide alert was triggered on Saturday (August 20), as several people were airlifted out of the sea and carried to shore off the Grande Plage.

One of the rescued swimmers was a 20-year-old man, who told Franceinfo: “I turned towards the beach; I saw that it was really very far away and that I probably would not be able to get back to it because there were very strong currents.

“I also saw that there were lots of people around me so I realised that we had all been carried away at the same time.

“I was really scared; I asked myself what I was going to do.”

Some of the 18 people rescued were carried more than 800 metres away from the beach by the riptide and were assisted in “very dangerous” conditions according to lifeguards. 

No one was hurt this time, but at least five people have died along the coastline of Nouvelle-Aquitaine since the beginning of the summer as a result of riptides. 

This comes after another warning was issued in Voisins Voices – a newsletter published by the UK government for the British community in France. 

It states that people planning on a beach holiday along the Atlantic coast this summer should be aware of the dangers of riptides, adding that they should also: 

  • Learn to spot a riptide. 

A riptide is normally signalled by deeper, darker water with fewer waves, and/or a rippling surface surrounded by smooth water.

In addition, if you see anything floating out to sea beyond the waves, you should be aware that it could be on a riptide. 

  • Use beaches with lifeguards where possible 
  • Always check warning flags and signage on the beach and only swim where it is permitted

Read more: Green, yellow, red, purple: New safety flag system for French beaches

What is a riptide? 

A riptide (baïne in French) is a stretch of unsettled water in the sea, which is created when two different currents meet or the depth changes abruptly. 

It causes disturbance on the surface and often flows away from the shore.

Further information on riptides is normally available (in French) on local authority websites, such as the Gironde prefecture.

Le Mascaret delights surfers in Dordogne 

While riptides are making bathing dangerous along the Atlantic coast, the phenomenon of le mascaret tidal bore is creating the perfect conditions for surfers, paddle boarders and kayakers on the Dordogne river.

Many people gathered last week to watch these water sports enthusiasts get ready for the wave, which is created in the estuary when the sea tide meets the river. 

This causes waves to travel up the river against the current, powerful enough to carry surfboards and kayaks with them.

Related articles 

Three family members die after being swept away by wave in Brittany

Worries over fish and ecosystem as Mediterranean sea set to reach 30C

‘Monster’ cannibal fish in French rivers, but no threat to humans

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