Going to the beach is an iconic Australian pastime, but it’s also a dangerous place. On average, one person drowns at an Australian beach every week and 10 people are rescued every day.
Rips, currents, waves, drop offs, sand bars, marine stingers, submerged objects, other people and surf craft all pose significant drowning risk.
Rips pose one of the most significant hazards. Rips are fast-flowing currents where water flows back out to sea. Recognising a rip is the first step in being able to avoid being caught in one. Look for discoloured water, formed from sand being stirred up from the bottom; foam on the surface that extends beyond the breaking waves, a ripple appearance when the water around is generally calm, floating debris with the current and waves breaking larger and further out on both sides of the rip.
Don’t panic if you get caught in a rip, but try and remain calm. If you are a poor swimmer then you should go with the rip, stay afloat and signal to lifesavers or other beach users and wait to be rescued. If you are a weak or tired swimmer, swim parallel to the shore and swim in when conditions allow. If you are a strong swimmer, swim parallel to the shore or angle your body diagonally across the current, returning to the shore through the breaking waves.
Always swim between the red and yellow flags. Never swim at unpatrolled beaches and never swim alone. Be aware of your limitations and evaluate your skills and fitness at a safe environment such as a public pool prior to swimming at the beach, to make sure you’re physically capable of swimming in the surf.
Refrain from drinking alcohol before swimming and never swim at night.