Dangers of Thailand Beaches
If you were to hear the words “Dangers of Thailand Beaches” many of the uninitiated would immediately turn their minds to one of the greatest killing machines on the planet. Of course I am talking about sharks. We have all seen the movies. It all started with JAWS and has spiraled out of control ever since (Sharknado anyone?). Sharks are heartless predators with more teeth than flesh, devouring everything that crosses into their path.
We all know that sharks are scary. They are large, fast and unseen for the most part. But did you know that the largest number of shark attacks in a year was recorded at 79 in 2010 [i]. That is shark attacks, not even shark related deaths. In that same year, Thailand had 26,312 traffic related fatalities [ii]. That comes to about 72 per day. Why is it that people are scared of sharks, but not scared of driving on the roads of Thailand when more people die on the roads here every day than are killed by sharks worldwide in a single year?
The Real Dangers of Thailand Beaches
If you haven’t caught on by now, when I say “Dangers of Thailand Beaches”, I am not referring to sharks, but the greatest unseen killer of swimmers in this country. I am talking about rip currents.
Why are rip currents so dangerous? Other than the raw primal power that they possess, it is more a lack of knowledge by the individual swimmer that makes them so dangerous. Unless you are from a place that allowed you to grow up with the beach, you may not know exactly what a rip current is, or how you should react if you find yourself stuck in one. Here is a rundown of what to look for and how to prepare yourself in case you encounter a rip current. With any luck, this guide may save a life someday.
What is a Rip Current?
Otherwise known incorrectly as a rip tide (it has nothing to do with tides), it is a fast moving current of water that leads away from the shore. This is caused by breaking waves that push water towards the sand. This water forms together and flows along the easiest path back out to sea. Imagine the ocean as dry land wherein a rip current is like a river flowing in a narrow path along a single direction. The currents within this path are very strong and can quickly take a swimmer by surprise. However, rip currents rarely persist past the breaking of waves.
Why is a Rip Current Dangerous?
To the untrained swimmer, it is fear that is the greatest threat when encountering a rip current. Imagine a relaxing swim in the ocean, only to suddenly start getting pulled out to sea for no apparent reason. The natural reaction is to fight against the current in order to get back to dry land. This is where the untrained novice will get into trouble. Never forget how big and powerful the ocean is. It is one of if not the greatest natural force on the planet. No human in history, alive or dead, is a strong enough swimmer to overpower the ocean, so why try?
How to Escape a Rip Current
There are two ways to escape the clutches of a rip current, neither of which involves fighting against it. Remember that rip currents are quite narrow. A very large rip current could be as wide as 30 meters, which isn’t really that wide, but most are much smaller. Also remember that rip currents typically dissipate past the break. With this knowledge, you have one of two choices. You can either swim parallel with the beach until you have escaped from the current, or allow the current to take you out beyond the break. If you choose the latter, remember to swim parallel with the shore until you are beyond the rip current before making your way back to shore.
How to Spot a Rip Current?
A rip current can be difficult to spot with the untrained eye. Fortunately for most major Thailand beaches, there will be lifeguards on duty whose job it is to keep an eye out for these dangerous currents. Always heed the warnings and commands of the life guards and always be on the lookout for red flags posted on the beach. These warn of dangerous rip currents and the areas in which they are posted should be avoided.
If you are planning to visit the beaches of Thailand, or beaches anywhere else in the world, be careful when going out into the water. The ocean can be a dangerous place to those who do not understand and respect it. Heed the warnings of the professionals who are trained and paid to protect you. Knowledge is your greatest tool in helping to prevent tragedy. So spread the word, who knows, maybe you will save a life.
Author’s Note: Stop criminalizing sharks; they are an important part of the ocean’s eco system. Without them, the entire balance within the oceans will be thrown out of whack. They are a top level predator that helps to control the population of everything below them on the food chain. Although there are around 70 shark attacks on humans every year, it is estimated that between 100 million and 273 million sharks are killed each year by humans. Who is the greater threat? #SaveTheSharks
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