Panama Riptides - How to Identify and Escape

Every year a number of people get caught up in a riptide and die swimming in Panama's oceans. A riptide is a strong channel of water moving out to sea, usually though the surf line. A riptide will not pull you underwater. The typically flow of a riptide is 1-2 ft per second, however riptides can move as fast a 8 feet per second. Riptides are dangerous for swimmers and surfers here in Panama. While it is important to understand how to identify and escape them, it is equally important to understand how help someone who is caught in one.

Recently two lives were taken at La Boquillas beach in Gorgona, as two young men attempted to rescue a friend caught in a riptide. Don Winner of Panama-Guide talks about the tragic incident in which an two friends drowned attempting to rescue a third friend, who made it back to the beach on his own.   

These tragedies are avoidable. Here are some tips to keep in mind when dealing with riptides. Stay safe by educating yourself on how to identify, escape and save other from riptides.

How to Identify a Riptide

• A channel of churning, choppy water.
• A line of sea foam, seaweed, or debris moving steadily out to sea.
• Different colored water beyond the surf zone.
• A break in the incoming wave pattern.

How to Escape a Riptide

  • Do not panic. Remaining calm will conserve energy.
  • Do not swim towards shore. Swim parallel to the shore until you escape the riptide.
  • Use land marks on shore to determine when you are away from the riptide.
  • Breaking waves will push you towards the shore

…If you cannot swim out of the riptide:

  • Float or tread water calmly
  • Attract someone’s attention on shore by waving your arms
  • Slowly move in a diagonal direction

How to help someone caught in a riptide

  • Do not go in after them. Get a lifeguard.

…If there is no lifeguard:

  • Throw anything that floats into the riptide after them.
  • Yell instructions on how to escape the riptide.
  • Enter the ocean from a safe point and coax them towards you.

Stay safe and have fun on Panama's beaches!