Surf Safety

A day at the beach is one of the fun-filled joys of an Australian summer, however there are many dangers too. Last year, 64 swimmers drowned on Australian beaches and lifesavers made approximately 11,000 rescues!

Why Swim Between the Flags

  • Early each morning lifesavers check the surf conditions at major beaches and put out the red and yellow flags showing the safest areas to swim.
  • The flagged swimming areas have been chosen for safe water depth, wave breaking patterns, underwater obstacles and possible rips.
  • The surf lifesaving patrol is located in the flagged area.
  • Large beaches often have more than one flagged swimming area.
  • During the summer, the flags are up and the lifesavers are on duty usually from about 8am to 6pm.

Rip Dangers

Even the strongest swimmers can be carried far from the shore by a rip. Struggling to swim against a rip can be very tiring and dangerous.

Rips can be identified by dark or discoloured water on either side of a wave, foam on the surface of the water, debris floating out to sea and rippled offshore water compared to calm, surrounding waters.

If you are caught in a rip, don’t panic! Keeping calm will ensure that you are safely rescued. Wave your arm above your head and yell to alert a lifesaver. IF you are a strong swimmer, swim at an angle of 45 degrees across the rip. This will carry you out of the rip and you should be able to surf a wave back to the beach.

If you are tired or inexperienced, ‘go’ with the rip until you no longer feel the undertow, then swim parallel to the shore for 30 or 40 metres and catch a wave to the shore.

Sun Safety

There’s a price to be paid for days spent in the sun on our glorious beaches – skin cancer. Some skin cancers such as melanoma are killers. Be smart in the sun while at the beach and learn sun safety!

Did you know….

  • Melanoma, a potentially fatal form of skin cancer, is twice as common in Australia now than it was a decade ago.
  • Australia has the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world.
  • Not only does the sun induce skin cancer, it kills the cells that protect the skin.
  • Two out of three Australians will get skin cancer.
  • Skin cancer is Australia’s second biggest killer.
  • 1200 Australians die of skin cancer each year.
  • Using sunscreen on a regular basis when outdoors will protect the body’s defences against skin cancer.

There are steps you can take to greatly reduce your chances of getting skin cancer. If possible, avoid direct exposure to the sun between 10am and 3pm when the sun is at it’s most harmful. Always wear a hat, UV resistant sunglasses and cover up in light, long sleeved clothing that will reflect the sun’s rays.

Apply a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 15+ sunscreen to all exposed skin. Sunscreen should be reapplied every three to four hours or when coming out of the water. When you are swimming, sunscreen will wash off and water can magnify the sun’s rays.

A tent or large beach umbrella is recommended for beachgoers. Remember, even on cloudy days you can be burnt. Cloud cover can reflect UV rays potentially ‘bouncing’ harmful rays up and down.

Beach Glossary

What do these terms mean?

  • Rip – A strong current moving out to sea.
  • Gutters – Stretches of deep water running parallel to the shore. Poor swimmers can easily get out of their depth.
  • Drop Off – A steep and sudden increase in water depth close to shore.
  • Body Surfing – Swimming towards the shore on the face of a breaking wave – the thrill of surfing without a board.
  • Longshore Drift – Unpredictable current running parallel to the beach.

Surf Patrols

Voluntary surf patrols in Sydney generally operate from September through to March each year. Every Surf Life Saving Club is required to provide a beach patrol during their allocated patrol hours, with most beaches patrolled between 10am – 4pm, with patrol hours extended from 8am – 6pm during the hotter summer months and in conjunction with Daylight Savings. Some clubs with smaller beaches and isolated access, such as in the Royal National Park, begin patrols later in the day.

A standard beach patrol is made up of a Patrol Captain, Vice Captain, IRB Driver and several patrol members. The Patrol Captain is responsible for managing their patrol on rostered patrol dates. Every standard patrol must include at least five Bronze Medallion holders, the basic Surf Life Saving Australia award obtained to be a lifesaver.

Patrols members can be identified by the bright red and yellow uniforms they wear. While members of the public are swimming between the red and yellow flags, they can be assured that they are swimming in the safest area of the beach and are under observation by the patrol.

The Surf Life Saving movement prides itself on the diligence of it’s patrolling members. Lives are rarely (if ever) lost between the flags while patrols are on duty. The professionalism of the Surf Life Saving movement means that it has never been safer to go swimming at the beach.

Safety Tips

  • Always swim or surf at places patrolled by lifesavers or lifeguards.
  • Swim between the red and yellow flags. They mark the safer area for swimming.
  • Always swim under supervision.
  • Read and obey the signs.
  • If you are unsure of surf conditions, ask a lifeguard.
  • Don’t swim directly after a meal.
  • Don’t swim under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Never run or dive in the water, even if you have checked before as water conditions can change.
  • If you get into trouble in the water, stay calm. Signal for help, float and wait for assistance.
  • Use 15+ sunscreen and wear a shirt and hat. Remember to reapply sunscreen after swimming.
  • Learn how to spot a rip and keep clear of it. A rip can be recognised by sand coloured or rippled water running out to sea when the water on either side is generally cleaner. The waves may also be larger and breaking further out to sea on both sides of the rip.
  • Keep the beach clean, put your rubbish in a bin and keep off the duned areas. They are there to preserve the beach environment.