Marine geography: what is a riptide?

Self-tutoring about marine terms: the tutor attempts to explain “riptide.”

By coincidence, I’ve always lived near the water. First it was in the Atlantic Provinces, next Vancouver Island. Even so, I’ve never been involved in watersports beyond casual swimming.

I’ve overheard the term “riptide” – there was even a show named that in the 80s, if I recall. (Perhaps I’ll write a post about that.) What does “riptide” mean?

My understanding is that a riptide, in the simplest case, needs two ingredients:

  1. a falling tide (tide is going out);
  2. a bay connected to the ocean via a narrow strait (or inlet, depending on the size of the bay).

The important idea is that the strait, or inlet, is very narrow relative to the size of the bay. Then, while the tide is falling, the water in the bay flows out through the strait like it’s a river. The riptide happens in the strait, where the outgoing tide creates an oceangoing current that runs perpendicular to shore. That’s a riptide, as I understand it.


Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

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