Beach Safety

Have a Top Day in the Surf and Sun

Beach Safety signs are displayed even though it's mid-winter at Sydney's Bondi Beach. Here outside the Bondi Pavilion surf lifesavers warn swimmers of a dangerous current and direct them to a flagged area further down the Beach where the surf is safer. Whatever the season the safety signs help you identify potential dangers and daily beach conditions. Read the signs carefully before entering the water.

Beach Safety is such a vital ingredient for a great day out at Sydney's wonderful surf beaches.

That day needs to stay in the memory of you and your loved ones for all the right reasons.

For the sheer fun you had

For the warmth of the sun’s rays, the exciting waves, the family and friends you shared your beach experience with.

How awful it must be to lose a loved one when you're having a top day out. Unfortunately such deaths happen every summer on Australia's beaches.

So here’s some Beach Safety wisdom

We want you to enjoy remarkable Sydney’s great beaches – AND to get back home safely.

These "travel tips" are maybe the most important you’ll get on this website because they could save your life.

Don’t get caught in Rip Currents!

These are sometimes called rip tides. They are fast-flowing bodies of water moving away from a beach.

For simplicity I'll just call them rips.

Don't fry yourself in the Sun!

You might think being a lovely tanned brown is great, but there's nothing attractive about the sun ravaged and leathered skin of this woman.

And then there's the skin cancer Melanoma. Observing Beach Safety is a must with this silent killer waiting to do damage. 

Melanoma can leave those who survive with horrible scars. I know, I've got one. (Check out our Sun Safety page).

Let's get back to being caught in a rip

If a rip IS taking you away from shore, make sure you’re not boozed or under the influence of drugs!

Make sure it’s happening in daylight! And make sure lifesavers or lifeguards are patrolling the beach!

Give yourself the best chance of survival

  • Don’t drink alcohol or take drugs and swim
  • Don’t go for a night swim at a beach
  • Don’t swim if the beach you’re at is not being patrolled. 

Let’s say you ARE being carried off by a rip

. . . but you have been sensible and these three “Don'ts” don’t apply to you.

What DO you do as you realise you’re moving quickly further out to sea - and well out of your depth?

Raise your arm and wave for help

Best Beach Safety good sense is to stay calm, float and wait for assistance. Float with the current or rip even though it is taking you further from shore.

Your heart will be pounding, but keep panic under control. Realise it can be a killer. Most important is to stay calm and concentrate on floating.

When those patrolling the beach see you wave they will quickly come to your aid.

Swim ACROSS the rip - if you can

Rips are not wide. Remember that. When you feel in control of your panic gather your energy together and swim across the rip. Keep swimming across until you're out of its pull.

Then get your breath and catch waves back to the shore.

Never swim against rip currents

This is the quick way to become exhausted, to panic, to swallow water, lose control and sadly add to the toll of Aussie drownings.

(Even an Olympic swimmer in prime fitness wouldn’t win if trying to swim against a strong rip).

Look for the red and yellow beach flags

When these flags are displayed on our beaches it means surf lifesavers are on duty - your top priority for beach safety.

If the flags aren’t up you’re destroying your chance of being rescued should you get into trouble. So look for the red and yellow flags (see photo).

Swim between the flags

That's because the section of beach between the flags is the area deemed safest for swimming. It will be under the constant gaze of life guards.

One of the sayings of lifesavers is - "If we can't see you, we can't save you."

So think about it … is it clever to leave your dip in the surf till 8pm? The answer’s a definite “no”.

If the beach flags aren’t up, don’t risk it

Don't go for that swim – especially if you’re on your own and you're not a strong swimmer. Find something else to do and return to the water when the lifeguards are back on duty.

In fact, it's a good rule to never swim on your own. Swim with a friend so you can look out for each other's safety and get help if needed.

If you've got children with you make sure they're always being supervised on the shoreline. It's commonsense and vital beach safety.

It's obvious - but still needs spelling out - that if the kiddies are going to have a swim they need to be accompanied by an adult who can swim.

Dumping and Surging Waves

Avoid waves that don't break or that break very forcefully. Observing the wave action first before taking to the water is a pretty smart beach safety rule.

Dumpers break with force - usually at low tide and in shallow water. The crest of the wave plunges straight down instead of rolling down.

Anyone who has been dumped can remember the frighteningly powerful force that slammed them down and pinned them onto the sand as water swirled over them.

Dumpers can cause serious injury. In fact, my brother Alan still felt neck pain months after a dumper slammed his head in the sand.

There’s a major contributing danger to all swimming that’s not talked about enough, in my view. And that's ...

Swimming when you’ve had alcohol or drugs

Most adult deaths by drowning are alcohol related.

If you value your life, don’t do it. You know when you’re still under the influence of those few glasses of wine or bottles of beer.

Trouble is you're in no condition to make a sensible decision. Too often it's "let's have a dip! ... Last one in is an ass!" And there's no thought of the dangers.

The Sydney seaside is there to be enjoyed - but don’t die for it! I sound like the grandad I am when I harp on this, but the sea can be tough enough to survive when you’re cold sober.

If you’ve been caught in rip currents and had to deal with panic and to swim and think your way out of the danger you’ll know what I mean.

Look before you leap into water

If you don't know the depth of the water you're about to leap into ... then don't take the plunge! It's too easy to suffer a serious or even fatal injury.

Knowing the water's depth before you dive or jump in is just plain Beach Safety good sense. A moment's thought might save you from life in a wheelchair.

You might think that running and diving into the surf at one of Sydney's great beaches is surely not unsafe - but think again.

Sand shifts all the time in wave action

So there can be hidden sandbars where the water is dangerously shallow for a headlong dive. Know the water depth before you leap - it's a good beach safety rule.

Looking after the kids

When there are large crowds at the beach it is pretty easy for children to get lost. And that can be a major issue for lifesavers to deal with.

Swim only in the patrolled areas of the beach and always encourage your kids to swim with friends or family ... and not on their own.

Here's three simple ways to help youngsters from getting lost from view:

  • Actively interact with your children at the beach. This is good beach safety because by doing so you are keeping them under your supervision.
  • With young kids, dress them out in some of those dazzling bright lycra swim suits. It makes them easy to see and it's good sense to lessen the amount of skin being exposed to the sun.
  • Speak to your child about what they should do if you become separated. Identify something that's easy to find on the beach ... a place you and the kid will go to if separated. (The lifesavers' tower might be a good spot).

Ouch! - Marine Stingers

This critter can occasionally be a problem on beaches all around Australia - making kids cry and generally ruining a good day at the beach for mums and dads.

The jellyfish is distinctively blue and gets washed up on Sydney beaches when wind and tidal conditions conspire to make swimming painful.

It's the nasty Bluebottle (physalia)

When you exercise Beach Safety with your family, keep these annoying jellyfish in mind. The best treatment is now believed to be hot water (not vinegar).

Immerse the affected area in water as hot as the person stung can stand - and keep it like that for at least 20 minutes.

The balloon part of the Bluebottle you can see here (above) on the sand. But this one is pretty much minus any nasty stinging tentacles.

Being rolled around in the surf and sand has rubbed them off. But pictured below is a bunch of the blighters - the one on its own on the right showing a blue tentacle. Sometimes hundreds get washed up like this lot.

Be respectful of washed up Bluebottle jellyfish

Don't let the kiddies walk on them with bare feet - sometimes they can still sting!

The Bluebottle gets around in the sea by using its balloon-like sail above the water. Dangling below is a long tentacle covered in stinging cells called nematocysts.

When these touch your skin they inject a small amount of toxin which causes irritation - and sometimes that can be quite painful.

SHARKS - Time to Leave the Water!

If you're in the water when a shark alarm sounds make sure you - and everyone with you - gets out of the water quickly. But don't panic!

The life guards will let you know when it's safe to be back swimming.

Of course, sharks are wild animals and when you swim at Sydney's beaches you have entered their territory. In the interests of beach safety many Sydney beaches are netted to keep sharks out.

These are not complete barriers, yet the shark meshing has killed thousands of sharks since the first nets were set to protect our beaches in 1937. Unfortunately it has also killed many other harmless animals, including turtles, dolphins and whales.

Footnote: The Shark Foundation says that in Australia you are 20 times more likely to drown than be bitten by a shark. The Foundation wants sharks protected around the world and says a shark is killed every second.

Return to Best Sydney Beaches.

Return to Sun Safety.

To Home Page.

Be Safe in the Sun

Another Sydney scorcher ... learn how to be safe in our harsh sun.

Sydney Australia - Beaches to Love!

Fantastic Cronulla Beach ... why not take the train?
Beautiful Bondi Beach ... looking north from the Icebergs seabaths.
Magnificent Manly Beach ... take the Ferry for a great day out.
Gorgeous Bronte Beach ... delightful seabaths and bogey hole.