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Beach Safety

Understanding the ocean is very important - the more you know about how waves, wind and tides affect conditions in the water, the better able you are to keep yourself safe, or even rescue others, from danger. Recognising danger signs and awareness of surf conditions is an essential part of lifesaving.

Remember F-L-A-G-S and stay safe this summer…

  • F - Find the flags and swim between them - the red and yellow flags mark the safest place to swim at the beach.
  • L - Look at the safety signs - they help you identify potential dangers and daily conditions at the beach.
  • A - Ask a surf lifesaver for some good advice - surf conditions can change quickly so talk to a surf lifesaver or lifeguard before entering the water.
  • G - Get a friend to swim with you - so you can look out for each other's safety and get help if needed. Children should always be supervised by an adult.
  • S - Stick your hand up for help - if you get into trouble in the water, stay calm, raise your arm to signal for help. Float with a current or rip - don't try and swim against it.

And remember – never:

  • Never swim at unpatrolled beaches
  • Never ever swim at night
  • Never swim under the influence of alcohol
  • Never run and dive into the water
  • Never swim directly after a meal

The Surf Environment


A rip is a strong current running out to sea. Rips are the cause of most rescues performed at beaches.

A rip usually occurs when a channel forms between the shore and a sandbar, and large waves have built up water which then returns to sea, causing a drag effect.

The larger the surf, the stronger the rip. Rips are dangerous as they can carry a weak or tired swimmer out into deep water.

Identifying a Rip

The following features will alert you to the presence of a rip:

  • darker colour, indicating deeper water
  • murky brown water caused by sand stirred up off the bottom
  • smoother surface with much smaller waves, alongside white water (broken waves)
  • waves breaking further out to sea on both sides of the rip
  • debris floating out to sea
  • a rippled look, when the water around is generally calm

Surf Skills

Escaping from a Rip

If you are caught in a rip:

  • Don't Panic - stay calm
  • If you are a strong swimmer, swim at a 45 degree angle across the rip and in the same direction as the current until you reach the breaking wave zone, then return to shore
  • If you are a weak or tired swimmer, float with the current, don't fight it. Swim parallel to the shore for about 30 - 40m until you reach the breaking wave zone, then swim back to shore or signal for help.
  • Remember to stay calm and conserve your energy.

Negotiating the surf

  • Before entering the surf, always make note of a landmark such as a building or headland that can be seen from the water and used as a guide for maintaining a fixed position. Also check the depth of any gutter and the height of any sandbank before diving under waves – this will help prevent spinal injury.
  • When going out through the surf, negotiate the shallows by a high hurdle type of stride until the breakers reach your waist or until your progress is slowed.
  • Waves of any size and force should not be fought against and should be negotiated by diving underneath, giving you time to reach the bottom and lie as flat as possible on the sand while the wave passes over.
  • Your hands can be dug into the sand in front at arm's length for stability and as a pull forward when ready to surface.
  • If the water is deep enough, bring your knees up under your body so you can get a good push off the bottom, like an uncoiling spring. This gives added force to your next dive. Repeat this process until in chest-deep water, then start swimming.
  • If a broken wave approaches when the water is not too deep, dive down and run or crawl along the bottom. In deep water, do not use extra energy trying to reach the bottom; instead duckdive to just below the turbulence. Wait for the wash to pass and then push or kick to the surface (off the bottom, if possible).
  • Stick to your predetermined path on the swim out.
  • Check your position by occasionally raising your head for a quick look when swimming on top of a swell.

Body Surfing

Body surfing is riding waves without any equipment. You need skill to know how to catch the wave at the right time, using its energy for propulsion. The skills required to become a good body surfer come from just one thing: Practice.

Spilling waves are best for body surfing, but if you can catch a plunging wave you can avoid injury by somersaulting out before it breaks.

  1. As the wave is almost upon you, push off the bottom or start swimming toward shore until you feel the wave begin to lift and carry you.
  2. As the wave breaks, take a breath, put your head down and kick hard until your body breaks through. Your feet should be together, your back arched slightly and your arms extended in front of you. As the wave becomes steeper, tilt forward and surf along the wave's face.
  3. You will probably have to paddle a bit to hold your position on the wave. Try to keep your body straight.
  4. As you approach the beach, pull out of the wave by turning your body away from the wave's breaking force, or jackknife dive and let the wave pass over your body.

Source: Surf Life Saving Australia