Warning over rip currents on the French Atlantic coast as 18 people rescued

Bathers at sea off Biarritz (Pyrénées-Atlantiques) have been warned of the danger of counter-currents, 18 people having had to be rescued after being swept away by the current this weekend.

The counter-current alert was triggered on Saturday August 20, when several people were helicoptered out of the sea and transported to the waters off 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 and that I probably couldn’t go back there because there were very strong currents.

“I also saw that there were a lot of people around me so I realized we were all swept away at the same time.

“I was very scared; I wondered what I was going to do.”

Some of the 18 people rescued were swept more than half a mile from the beach by the undercurrent and were rescued in “very dangerous” conditions according to rescuers.

No one was injured this time, but at least five people have died along the New Aquitaine coastline since the start of the summer as a result of back-currents.

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

It states that people planning 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 signaled by deeper, darker water with fewer waves and/or a rolling surface surrounded by smooth water.

Also, if you see something floating offshore beyond the waves, be aware that it could be an eddy.

  • Use supervised beaches whenever possible
  • Always check warning flags and signage on the beach and only swim where permitted

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

What is a countercurrent?

A countercurrent (bath in English) is a rough body of water in the sea, which is created when two different currents meet or the depth changes suddenly.

It causes disturbances on the surface and often flows far from shore.

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

The Mascaret is a delight for surfers in the Dordogne

While rip currents make swimming dangerous along the Atlantic coast, the tidal bore phenomenon creates ideal conditions for surfers, paddle boarders and kayakers on the Dordogne River.

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

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

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