Australia is famous for its beaches and spending a day at the beach particularly over the summer period can be a fun and enjoyable day. To ensure that the day is enjoyable and fun, it is a good idea to become familiar with Australian beach culture and beach safety in general.

Recent figures published over the 2018/19 summer showed that drowning numbers for coastal areas was the worst in 15 years. Statistics indicate that roughly 25% of the victims will be foreign born and 8% were international students. Steven Pearce, Chief Executive of Surf Life Saving, New South Wales recently told the ABC;

“Because we’ve seen such a spike in the representation of non-English speaking backgrounds, at risk communities, we’re really going to be working hard in the off-season to engage these communities to enhance water safety, understanding and preparedness leading into this coming summer,”

That being said it is also imperative that newcomers to Australia arm themselves with the appropriate information about Australian surf conditions. Watching a couple of old episodes of Bondi rescue will never go astray.

Perhaps the most important rule to follow is to swim at a beach that is patrolled by life savers.  A patrolled beach will generally have some red and yellow flags indicating the safest place to swim on the beach. This will also be the spot where the lifesaver{s) is directly watching the water and on the lookout for people in trouble.

Besides swimming between the flags here are some other basic rules to follow when visiting an Australian beach.

  • Take note of any beach signage that indicates beach conditions. Signage may indicate the depth of the water, strong rip conditions, and on some occasions the presence of jellyfish or other potential hazards in the water.
  • Never swim alone, at dusk or at night when visibility is poor.
  • If you do happen to get into trouble in the water, don’t panic. – raise your hand – this indicates to Lifeguards that you are in distress and need assistance.
  • Don’t swim when under the influence of alcohol or drugs at any time.
  • Check expected weather conditions before going to the beach. The Bureau of Meteorology will give you a detailed forecast that includes expected surf conditions.
  • Choose the beach that suits your needs. A wild surf beach may not be perfect for a young family. While on the other hand, a quiet protected beach won’t be ideal if you want to catch some waves.
  • Protect yourself from the sun by adopting the Australian mantra of slip, slop, slap. Slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen and slap on a hat. It’s a good idea to find some shade (or bring some with you via a beach umbrella or shade hut) and have plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated throughout the day.
  • Be on the lookout for ocean rips. A rip is a strong ocean current that flows away from the shore and is the main danger on Australian beaches. Lifesavers place their flags away from known rips, making their designated swimming spot the safest place to swim.

Tip: Rips are not easy to recognise, but with some practice you can recognise some signs of where they are. These signs could include less breaking waves in the area of the rip, deeper, darker coloured water, a rippled surface surrounded by smooth waters and signs of objects floating out to sea beyond the breaking waves.

The best way to avoid being caught in a rip is to be aware of your surroundings and not to take unnecessary risks. If you do get caught in a rip, you need to follow the following principles

  • Don’t fight the rip – relax and conserve energy by floating
  • Raise your arm to attract attention. Lifesavers will respond as soon as they see you
  • It may be possible to escape the current by swimming across the current towards breaking waves

Australian beaches are extremely popular and places that are sure to give you hours of enjoyment provided you follow some simple safety precautions.

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