Warning: Reynisfjara beach has claimed the lives of visitors. Here is how to stay safe
Sneaker waves make Reynisfjara beach one of the most dangerous destinations in Iceland. However, with the proper precautions, you can avoid yourself or your loved ones, adding to the number of lives lost there.
What is the danger at Reynisfjara?
The South Coast of Iceland lies along the open sea of the North-Atlantic ocean that brings powerful waves up to the coast. The tallest waves measured there (and anywhere on the planet) rise to 40 m (120 ft), similar to a 10-story building.
Sneaker waves (also known as sleeper, king, or rouge waves) are huge coastal waves that can suddenly appear in a train of smaller waves. The sneaker waves are much larger than those in between and reach way further. The time between the giant waves can vary, sometimes, one comes right after the other, or there can be up to tens of smaller waves in between. The waves can rise very fast just before hitting the shore. This happens because the ocean floor deepens rapidly away from the coast. In addition, the ocean currents are very powerful and add to the danger.
Other dangers in Reynisfjara are from rockfall and rockslides. The cliffs above the Eastern part of the Reynisfjara beach are steep and unstable, so rockfall is common.
What happens when people are at risk of drowning at Reynisfjara?
When an ocean wave grabs you, you are knocked off your feet and it is very tough to stand up and find balance again. One of the reasons for that is that the wave creates a suction that drags you out and washes the sand and gravel from under your feet. Once you are in the water, the currents will pull you away from the coast and nothing can be done to save you. The water is also freezing and you suffer from hypothermia within just a few minutes.
The Zone System at Reynisfjara beach
The beach at Reynisfjara is divided into zones depending on the conditions. When a yellow light is on, visitors must not enter the yellow zone, and when a red light is on, visitors must not enter the red zone (not go further than the light sign). It is recommended that visitors stay on the backshore, as it offers an excellent view of the spectacle from a safe distance. Please note that there are no lifeguards or other manned security measures at Reynisfjörður - attempting rescue in these dangerous conditions is simply too risky.
How to behave at Reynisfjara beach - do’s & don’ts
- Don't go anywhere near where the waves are landing. Note that sneaker waves can form even when the weather is calm.
- Don't go bathing or surfing there, being a strong swimmer won't save you.
- Never turn your back to the ocean (that selfie isn't worth dying for).
- Don't follow others like sheep, make your own judgments of the danger you may be in.
- Don't put yourself at risk by helping others. That could result in a more complex rescue mission for emergency response teams.
- Read the safety signs thoroughly and follow their advice.
- Stay far from the ocean to avoid getting caught by a wave.
- Be extra cautious if you have children with you and watch them closely.
- Be aware if the tide is rising, which can get you trapped in the cave or on the East-most part of the beach. Here you can find a
- Stay at a safe distance from the cliffs to avoid rockfalls.
Why do people visit Reynisfjara black sand beach?
Reynisfjara is a long beach on the South coast of Iceland, near the town of Vik (Vík í Mýrdal). The beach is in a lovely setting of sea stacks, columnar basalt and glaciers. It is covered with black volcanic ash and dark rocks and hence the nickname "The black sand beach," although Iceland is famous for having countless black sand beaches. Due to its beauty, Reynisfjara beach is one of Iceland's most popular tourist sites.
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Please stay safe!