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Water safety


When it’s warm in Australia, particularly during the summer months, there are lots of opportunities for you to explore our beautiful countryside and coastlines. And that usually means going for a swim at the beach, a pool, or another destination.

But it’s important to exercise caution in and around water, especially if the location is new and unfamiliar, or if you’re not a confident swimmer.

The open ocean, as well as inland waterways such as rivers and lakes, may appear safe and inviting, but there are often risks lying underneath. You might also find yourself swimming with others and not realise that you’re out of your depth (literally), especially if your judgement is impaired by alcohol.

Rescues and drownings are a sombre reality in Australia, so ensure you stay safe and enjoy yourself by learning about how to approach different situations with caution and care.

What to do

When you’re heading for the water, always learn about the conditions you may face in advance, such as rips, changing weather or debris below the water surface. It’s a good idea to research where you’re swimming so you know what to expect and you can decide if it’s safe for you to swim.

Here are the most important things to consider when making this decision:

  • Only swim at patrolled beaches. This means that there will be lifeguards on duty who can help you if you get into trouble in the water. A patrolled beach will be marked with red and yellow flags that you should swim in between. The BeachSafe website and app show nearby patrolled beaches and where there might be hazards in the water.
  • Rips are the number one beach hazard. A rip is a strong current of water moving away from the shore that can drag you out into the ocean. They can be unpredictable and dangerous even for confident swimmers. Learn how to recognise a rip and what to do if you’re caught in one.
  • Never swim after you’ve had alcohol or drugs. Alcohol is one of the biggest risk factors for drowning among adults. It can impair your judgement and make even safe swimming spots potentially dangerous.
  • Don’t swim alone. Always swim with friends or at a spot where there are other people around you. You should also be honest with yourself about your limits: you may think you’re capable in the water, but unless you’re swimming significant distances weekly, it’s easy to overestimate your abilities.
  • Don’t jump or dive into unfamiliar bodies of water, especially rivers or lakes. There may be rocks or debris under the surface, or it may be shallower than you realise.
  • Wear a lifejacket when fishing or boating. There is a lifejacket for every activity and everybody. With the modern and comfortable design of lifejackets there is no excuse not to wear one.

One of the safest places to swim is a council pool with a lifeguard on duty, so this is a good choice if you’re not a strong swimmer or you’re in a group with varying abilities.

Getting support

In an emergency, it’s important to seek expert help: if someone is struggling in the water, don’t try to rescue them yourself. Bystander rescues often involve the death of both the person attempting the rescue and the person in trouble. If someone you’re with gets into trouble, alert the people around you, seek the assistance of a lifeguard or someone with rescuing skills, and call Triple Zero (000) if you require an ambulance.

One way you can empower yourself and support your friends and family is by completing a first aid course. You can sign up for a short course through DUSA, or organisations like the Australian Red Cross and St John Ambulance Australia. Australians have low rates of CPR knowledge, so this is a proactive and positive way you can prepare yourself for an emergency.

More help and advice

The Royal Life Saving Society website has lots of helpful information about how to enjoy water safely, how to complete water safety training and the risk factors that may affect you.

Life Saving Victoria also provides advice about preparing for a day in the water, as well as information about lifesaving programs across the state.

Drowning can be quick and silent: this article outlines how you can recognise when someone is drowning and prevent it in the first place.

Download the BeachSafe app now to prepare for your summer adventures.

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