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I am fascinated and afraid (at the same time) of whirlpools and water currents.

I wonder if a average human could survive water currents or whirlpools or maybe even the Saltstraumen?

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  • 1
    Mythbusters actually had an episode on this – Cort Ammon Jan 28 '16 at 1:24
  • I totally thought this question was about kayaking – ShemSeger Jan 28 '16 at 19:40
  • Hello, any way would be fine, I wonder if swimming could work like best swimmer of the world vs water current or small boat vs water current or anything would be fine, thanks – DeathToxic Jan 29 '16 at 18:10
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It depends very much on the specific geography. But the idea of "whirlpools" that suck down people or entire ships, never to be seen again (which I suspect is what fascinates you) is largely a myth. The dangers aren't any different (and typically much smaller) than those posed by whitewater rapids in rivers. Specific dangers are:

  • Being knocked against rocks and getting injured or unconscious. This is the biggest danger in rivers but probably much less so in tide whirlpools.
  • Exhaustion from trying to swim against currents, eventually leading to drowning. This could definitely happen to an inexperienced swimmer (or an experienced one with no hope of outside rescue), the same as with rip tides.
  • Getting trapped underwater, which can happen in various ways but usually involves rocks. There are some features in rivers (especially man-made weirs) that create permanent horizontal whirls which can trap people. I guess this is the closest thing to the "sucked down" scenario. But the tide whirlpools are vertical and not permanent - they move and dissolve, and new ones appear. I strongly doubt they have the power to keep a person underwater for long - but if that person is already exhausted, it could be a different story.
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    Bullet point number 3 ignores density of objects caught in eddies. An object that is slightly less dense than water that gets caught in an eddy will be pulled to the center and pulled down under water. An object very less dense will get pulled to the center and stuck on top. And object denser than the water will get tossed out of the eddy, but will sink. – Escoce Jan 27 '16 at 19:49
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    Consider your second point; strong experienced swimmers can also drown in rip tides and currents. – gerrit Jan 27 '16 at 20:53
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    The maelstrom Wikipedia article mentions a whirlpool capable of sucking a mannequin wearing a life-jacket to a depth of 262 meters. Scary. – blahdiblah Jan 27 '16 at 23:03
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    Here is one of my favourite podcasts that touches briefly on humans swimming in maelstroms or whirlpools, but is more about vessels. However, the physics don't really change. skeptoid.com/episodes/4382 – RomaH Jan 28 '16 at 1:18
  • @blahdiblah - "...with evidence of being dragged along the bottom for a great distance." – Mazura Jan 28 '16 at 9:14
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Yes, you can survive it... if you've got the skills. Not many years ago I watched a film at a mountain film festival, and it was about the first guys to ever kayak the Congo River. They weren't only the first people to kayak the river, they were also the first people to navigate it-and survive.

enter image description here

Here's a clip from National Geographic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HeZjJk2lTHs You basically just do your best to stay upright, point your nose out, lean forward, and paddle like crazy to either try to escape it, or ride it out.

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    The question asks about the average human. The average human doesn't have the skills. And even a human that has the skills is taking s huge chance. – Escoce Jan 28 '16 at 14:31
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    @Escoce You want to talk about averages; the average human can't even swim. – ShemSeger Jan 28 '16 at 15:28
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    I just barely noticed the second kayak in this picture. – ShemSeger Jan 29 '16 at 3:35
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I would say no, because according to records, the strait is not even considered navigable except during short periods of slack tide.

Does that mean a person couldn't survive? No certainly not, but I wouldn't bet my own life to try.

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    "not navigable" is a completely different thing than "not survivable for a swimmer". A steady, strong current combined with some shallower spots would be very dangerous for ships but pretty harmless for swimmers. – Michael Borgwardt Jan 28 '16 at 10:11
  • But that's not the case here. And not navigable means by something a lot more powerful than a swimmer. I didn't say death is certain. But if you read about whirlpools and maelstroms etc. I don't think you'd be willing to test it either. And based on your answer, I have a comment. There is a difference between surviving and never to be seen again. – Escoce Jan 28 '16 at 14:26
  • actually I wanted to know surviving by swimming, if a human could get out alive, well me certainly not I am not a good swimmer, but generally, so you think it's possible for a person to get out alive – DeathToxic Jan 31 '16 at 20:04
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    Even if it's a 1 in a million chance, technically everyone could. Practically however, very few will. – Escoce Jan 31 '16 at 20:21
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About 60 persons have drowned in Saltstraumen the last 60 years. Only a few of them have been found. If you go down when the stream is going into the Skjerstadfjord (when it is high-water), a boat or a body will be taken down to the bottom of the fjord because of the special geological shape of the underwater landscape. Then you will never come up! The stream is only 20 meters deep over the threshold, and up to 900 meters deep in the fjord inside. The pressure of the water will keep you at the bottom!

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