Summer usually means one thing, especially if you're in Australia or New Zealand - It's beach time!
We're all for everyone living their best lives on a beach during summer, but it's also important that beachgoers know all about beach safety and the hazards that could potentially show up. So to ensure that your time on the beach will be a safe one, we're going to go through things like rip currents, safe areas to swim, and marine life to keep an eye out for when you're out having fun.
Rip currents are one of the most common hazards on surf beaches - and one of the main causes of drowning. Rips are difficult to spot, which is why it's important to always swim between the red and yellow flags on patrolled beaches. Getting caught in a rip current is terrifying, but if you are caught in a rip, here are the important things to keep in mind:
Do not panic and remain calm.
Do not swim against the rip. Swimming against a rip current is the worst thing you can do and you'll tire yourself out.
If you are a poor or non-swimmer, or if you're exhausted, then you should go with the rip, float to conserve energy, and raise your arm and call out for help. If the beach is patrolled, lifeguards will spot you and come help.
If you are a strong swimmer, swim parallel to the shore or angle your body diagonally across the current, returning to the shore through the breaking waves.
Safe areas to swim
The safest spots to swim at any beach are those patrolled by lifeguards and lifesavers. They are trained professionals who supervise beachgoers and provide advice about beach conditions. It's important to remember that lifeguards and lifesavers are there to help but they aren't babysitters, so never ever leave children by themselves on the sand or in the water.
To ensure your safety and to minimise any risk of danger while swimming at the beach, make sure you:
Always swim between the red and yellow flags on patrolled beaches.
Look for signs at the entrance to the beach for local information.
Look for beach safety signs that have been placed around by lifeguards.
Never swim alone, always swim with someone else.
Never swim under the influence of alcohol or after a big meal.
Never swim at an unpatrolled beach.
Never swim at night.
Do not enter the water if there are any doubts about your swimming ability.
Stay vigilant and keep an eye on those whose swimming ability isn’t as strong.
Stay calm and raise your arm if you get into trouble while in the water, a lifeguard will spot you and come help.
Here are the types of beach safety flags you'll see:
Area is operated by a lifesaving service. You can swim between these flags.
Beach is closed. Do not enter the water.
Surfcraft riding area boundary. Board riding and surfing is not permitted.
Evacuate the water.
Caution required. Potential hazards in the water.
The most common marine animal you will come across at the beach will be jellyfish (also known as stingers), particularly the bluebottle jellyfish. While marine stingers may look harmless and are easy to avoid, they can be extremely dangerous and may require emergency first aid. Symptoms can include immediate burning pain and red or purple whip-like weals.
If you or someone gets stung by a bluebottle or another kind of jellyfish, make sure you:
Rinse the area with vinegar, for at least 30 seconds. If you don't have vinegar, use seawater.
Carefully pluck visible tentacles with fine tweezers.
Once the tentacles are removed, immerse the sting area in hot (but not scalding) water for 20 to 45 minutes.
If hot water is not available, apply a cold pack to help the pain. Don't apply ice directly to unprotected skin.
If there are any signs of respiratory distress, call 000 in Australia or 111 in NZ.
Whatever you do, make sure you don't do any of the following for stings (even if people insist it works):
Rub sand over the sting - that'll just result in a rash.
Pour soft drinks over the sting - that'll just make everything sticky.
Rinse with human urine - pretty self-explanatory.
Apply alcohol, ethanol or ammonia.
Rub with a towel.
Apply pressure bandages.
For more in-depth information about the bluebottle jellyfish and what to do if you've been stung, head over to the Australian Red Cross website here.
Rock fishing and rock safety
Rock fishing is a popular hobby in Australia, but can be quite dangerous if you're not careful. If you're a rock fishing enthusiast or want to get into it, here's what you should do to prepare ahead of each fishing trip:
Know what the tides are doing to avoid getting caught out
Check the tide tables so you know when and if the water will be rising.
Avoid long fingers of rock which can only be reached at very low tides as these can leave you stranded.
Be very careful when visibility is bad around dusk.
Check the weather
While rock fishing can be an all-weather sport, getting caught in a storm can be dangerous and even life-threatening on an exposed rock ledge. Remember to use common sense and pull the plug when the weather becomes too rough.
Find up-to-date weather on the Bureau of Meteorology or a similar weather forecasting website.
Check the surf conditions
Before you even leave home, spend some time working out the swell band checking conditions as some rock ledges may look perfect for a short period but then the swell rises and hits it with a big wave. By checking ahead of time, you will know exactly how the water is behaving before you decide where to fish.
Australian Surfline and NZ Surf-forecast can help you work out the surf conditions.
Wear lightweight clothing that you can swim in, in case you end up in the water. This can include shorts and light t-shirts, or even wetsuit gear.
Wear good grip shoes and proper foot protection.
General safety tips
Never fish by yourself and always inform others of your plans.
Pack safety gear - This includes a lifejacket and something buoyant that can easily be thrown and held onto to help you stay afloat.
Pack ropes, a float, and torches.
Plan an escape route in case you are washed in.
Never turn your back on the sea.
If the waves, weather or swell turn or are bad and threaten your fishing spot leave immediately.
Other safety advice
There are a number of things you can proactively do for your safety before heading to the beach, such as:
Wear sunscreen, a hat, and a long sleeve top - the sun in Australia and New Zealand is very strong so make sure you stay protected. This goes for you, children or elderly people who may be in your care.
Check weather and beach conditions.
Swim at patrolled beaches
Avoid rocky areas and never jump off rocks
Check if there are lifeguards/lifesavers around or where they are patrolling.
Remember to stay hydrated, you easily dehydrate in the hot summer sun.
Don’t leave your valuables unprotected.
Safety signage to be aware of
Unsafe for swimming.
Dangerous surf, big waves.
Marine stingers underwater.
Floating marine stingers.
Shallow water. Not suitable for diving.
Sudden drop off.
What to do when you see someone struggling in the water?
Eight per cent of people who drowned at Australian beaches in 2021-22 were trying to rescue someone else. This means that individuals decided to help someone out who was in trouble but ended up getting in trouble themselves.
To minimise the risk of drowning when trying to help someone struggling in the water, it is important to:
Always consider your own abilities and the surf conditions before attempting to rescue someone.
If you do have a surfboard or floating device and are a good swimmer, then help them if you feel capable.
If you are with children, always supervise them and never leave them in the water by themselves.
If in doubt, seek help by calling 000 (AUS) or 111 (NZ) and flagging down nearby surfers or anyone on the beach for help.
Swim between the flags on a patrolled beach if you are not a confident swimmer.
If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.
Information sourced from: ABC, Australia.com, Beach Safe #1, Beach Safe #2, Health Direct, Royal Life Saving Australia, Surf Life Saving #1, Surf Life Saving #2, and Redcross.org.au
Main Image credit: Bondi Rescue Lifeguards at Facebook
All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.