The sound of water is relaxing until you feel the water pulling you. Then you notice a whirlpool near you in the middle of the ocean. Suddenly, the deadly force has ahold of you, and there is no way to prevent it from sucking you in.

Churning water. Colliding opposing currents. The two key compents of what makes a whirlpool. Whirlpools often pull objects to the seabed. So if you find yourself getting pulled into one of these spirals of death, what can you do? How can a good thrust help you? Can you duck under a vortex? Why is swimming upstream a bad idea?

Another term for a whirlpool is a maelstrom. It means a powerful whirlpool in a sea or river. These vortices can be up to 10 m (33 ft) in diameter and 5 m (16 ft) deep. They form where the currents are strongest. Heavy winds, or a difference in water density due to temperature or tides, can cause multiple currents in different directions.

If they’re strong enough when they meet, they spiral downward and form a vortex. And don’t underestimate its power. The empty space in the center of that vortex has the power to pull objects into it. There are many famous whirlpools, like The Old Sow in Eastport, Maine.

Saltstraumen, situated off the coast of Norway, can claim bragging rights as the world’s strongest maelstrom. Vessels have a very tight timeframe if they want to cross when the maelstrom’s forces aren’t as violent. Every year thousands of tourists thirsty for danger flock to the city of Bodø to witness its unbridled intesity at high tide. So what should you do if you get sucked inside?

Step 1: Stay Down

If there is anything a person should absolutely not do in this scenario, it would be to move upstream in the whirlpool. This would suck you deeper into the vortex and make it impossible to escape the whirlpool.

Step 2: Don’t Get Caught

Avoid getting caught by the vortex. Do this by ducking down under the foaming water formed by the churning of the whirlpool. Wait for the whirlpool to pass over while you are ducked down.

Step 3: Don’t Seek One Out

While the idea of swirling around in a whirlpool may seem exciting, the experience is not the thrill ride you might expect. Just ask survivor David Sousa. He decided it would be fun to give his kids a taste of Mother Nature’s amusement park ride and nosed his 19-foot boat just barely into the Old Sow whirlpool. His family was taken around the whirlpool nearly 100 times.

And during one rotation around the Sow, a piece of wood got stuck in the boat’s propeller. This left the boat’s bow sticking out of the raging water at a precarious 30 degrees. It was a life-or-death effort as Sousa’s family had to swing him over the stern by his ankles to avoid the propellor.

Step 4: Wear a Life Vest

If you are lucky enough to be wearing a life vest, try to force yourself down into the smooth water that dips beneath with your arms open.

Step 5: Look for the Edge

If you can find your way to the outer edge of the vortex, you can thrust yourself into the flow of the water beyond its reach and make your way towards the shore. But remember, even the strongest swimmer can be pulled into a whirlpool.

Any current has the potential to overwhelm any swimmer and quickly pull them under the surface. Do you know how long you could survive trapped underwater? On average, most people can only hold their breath for about 30 seconds. And a lack of oxygen won’t be the only thing trying to kill you under there.

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