96% Of Australians Unable To Spot The Number One Killer On Our Beaches 1

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29th November 2009, 10:00am - Views: 854

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Surf Life Saving launches rip current public safety campaign to prevent coastal drowning deaths

Sunday 29



A Newspoll survey* has revealed that 96 percent of Australians could

not identify a rip current


and alarmingly only 15 percent could correctly explain the most

effective way to save themselves if caught in a rip current2 and therefore prevent themselves

from drowning. 

This follows the 2009 National Coastal Safety Report which identified that rip currents are the

most prominent hazard on Australian beaches.  Up to 89 percent of rescues by surf lifesavers

and lifeguards on Australian beaches are caused by beachgoers caught in rip currents.

Today, Surf Life Saving (SLS) launches a public safety campaign, to educate Australians about

rip currents and how to survive them.  The message is simple:

“To escape a rip, swim parallel to

the beach”

Peter George AM, National Director of Lifesaving at Surf Life Saving Australia says, “Our key surf

safety message remains ‘Swim Between the Red and Yellow Flags’, however our data shows

that the majority of people who drown in rip currents are swimming away from patrolled areas

and outside of patrol times”.  

At any given time it is estimated that 17,000 rips exist on Australia’s 11,748 beaches.  With only

four percent of Australian beaches patrolled, being able to identify a rip current and how to

survive being caught in a rip current is critical to reduce fatalities on Australian beaches.  

“To put it into perspective, last year there were 94 coastal drownings and one fatal shark

attack. This shows that beach drowning deaths get far less attention than shark attacks


It is

critical that we bring attention to rip currents on Australian beaches and educate beachgoers

to drastically reduce the fatalities each year,” said Mr George.

Our biggest concern is young men, aged 25-34 who are over-represented in our drowning

data. They are a large contingent of the beach going population, they are confident and

often do not listen to safety advice, and herein lies the challenge.”

Mr George said that “The new campaign aims to provide people, especially this male

demographic, with the simplest and safest way to escape a rip current”.

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The Newspoll study also reveals that since 2004 there has been a six percent increase in the

proportion of Australians who swim in the surf during summer, up from 47 percent to 53 percent.   

“The increase in the numbers of people swimming at Australian beaches, coupled with the lack

of knowledge about rip currents is a lethal combination, making it even more important to

educate beachgoers on the most dangerous hazard at our beaches,” said Mr George. 

Lachlan Holbery-Morgan, 2009 Australian Surf Lifesaver and Lifeguard of the Year regularly sees

the life threatening consequences of beachgoers not understanding rip currents.

“It is essential that every Australian knows what a rip current is, how to avoid one and how to

escape one,” said Holbery-Morgan.  

“The rip current campaign message is a very simple one, “To escape a rip, swim parallel to the


. If people can remember this very simple instruction when they find themselves in a rip

current, they will have a very good chance of escaping it,” he said.

“The reality is there are too many coastal drowning deaths on Australian beaches; they are

preventable with education, and we are committed to drastically reducing these tragic

fatalities on Australia’s beaches this summer,” concluded Mr George.

The campaign has been funded by the Australian Government, through the Department of

Health and Ageing and will include television, press, radio and outdoor advertising as well as a

new website


*- This Newspoll study was conducted by telephone in October 2009 among a representative sample of n=1201

adults aged 18+ nationally.  Previous waves of the study were conducted in December 2000 (n=1200) and November

2004 (n=1200).


Correct description of what a rip looks like - those who describe something like "a smoother surface with much

smaller waves, alongside white water or broken waves" or "calm flatter water next to the regular surf" 


Correct description of what to do if caught in a rip - those who mention to swim parallel or horizontal to the shore, or

to swim to the side.

For further information, please visit:

Media enquiries:

Julia Everingham - Map and Page

E: julia@mapandpage.com.au

T: 0416 033 696

Annabelle Jones - Map and Page

E: annabelle@mapandpage.com.au

T: 0412 241 752 / 02 9368 4501

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4% of Australians are able to correctly describe what a rip looks like¹

43% of Australian surf beach goers say they check surf conditions with a surf lifesaver all or

some of the time - a decrease compared to 2004 (54%).

20% of Australians are able to provide a partially correctly response on what a rip looks

like, or how to visually identify a rip. This includes mentioning darker colour water, murky or

brown water, sand stirred up or sandy water; water is calmer / flatter / smooth / no waves /

calm / not broken waves / no foam.

73% of Australian surf beach goers say they always swim between the flags, which means

the remainder do not do so (27% - representing 2.3 million Australians), and are risking their

lives by their actions combined with their lack of knowledge. 

From the 2009 National Coastal Report: 

Up to 89% of surf lifesaver and lifeguard rescues are caused by rip currents.  

At any given time it is estimated that 17,000 rips exist on Australian beaches.  



% who could correctly

describe a rip

% who could correctly

describe how to escape a rip
















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The best advice is to avoid rip currents altogether. To reduce the likelihood of getting caught

in a rip current, you need to:


Swim between the red and yellow flags


Observe all safety signs


Obey all instructions from the surf lifesavers and lifeguards


Understand what a rip current is


Know how to spot a rip current


Do not swim in or near a rip current

If you’re swimming at the beach and find yourself being taken away from the beach and

unable to get back, it is more than likely you are in a rip current. There are a few important

steps that you should follow.


Do not panic.


Do not try and swim against the rip current.



wim parallel to the beach

often this is towards the breaking waves, which you

can then catch back to shore.


If at any time you feel you are unable to reach the beach – raise your arm to call

for assistance, while floating to conserve your energy.


Always stay calm.

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00:00 – 02:10

General Beach Vision (People swimming and surfing - Tamarama & Bondi

Beaches Sydney)

02:10 – 03:15

Sound Bites (Surf Life Saving spokesperson Lachlan Holbery-Morgan,

2009 Surf Lifesaving and Surf Lifeguard of the year)

03:15 – 03:25

Sound Bites (Surf Life Saving spokesperson Peter George, National

Director of Lifesaving at Surf Life Saving Australia

03:25 – 05:32

Vox Pops (Tamarama Surf Lifesavers)

05:32 – 06:55

Vox Pops (Public)

06:55 – 10:22

Rescue Vision Mock-ups (Beach and underwater sequences)

10:22 – 11:27

Dye Release (Dye substance released to demonstrate rips Tamarama

Beach Sydney)

11:27 – 12:29

Graphic animation of a rip current

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