Last week, police identified the dead body of a Bangladeshi man who reportedly died by drowning at a Sydney beach. Delwar Hossain had been staying in Ingleburn in Sydney’s southwest.

This devastating news coincides with the publication of new research from UNSW about the risks of swimming at unpatrolled beaches.

The research found that holiday-goers are more likely to swim at unpatrolled beaches where there are no flags or lifeguards because these beaches often happen to be close to holiday accommodation.

According to Surf Lifesaving Australia, all 54 coastal drowning deaths last summer occurred at unpatrolled locations, including 78% on beaches.

Out of these drowning deaths, 43% were due to rip currents, a 70% increase on the ten-year average.

Also of note is that migrants or travellers from countries with no direct sea face may be of higher risk of drowning in Australia due to limited swimming ability and limited water safety knowledge.

One of the major reasons so many people drown at unpatrolled beaches is because they do not know how to recognise rip currents. A rip current can generally be identified by two main characteristics:

  • Deeper and darker water in one area
  • Less waves breaking in one area

UNSW’s Professor Rob Brander said there are some important questions to ask yourself before entering the water at any beach. These questions are:

  1. Are there any flags or lifeguards?
  2. Did you see any signs saying beach closed or no lifeguard on duty?
  3. What’s the surf like – are the waves too big for you?
  4. Are you with people or alone? Are there other people on the beach?
  5. Are there any floatation devices nearby – surfboards, boogie boards, a cooler or anything that floats?
  6. Do you have mobile reception?
  7. Is there an Emergency Response Beacon on the beach to alert emergency services?
  8. Are you a strong swimmer?
  9. Do you know how to spot a rip?

But above all else, Professor Brander’s best advice to beachgoers this holiday season, particularly at unpatrolled beaches, is to heed the message: “If in doubt, don’t go out.”

Unfortunately, a significant number of people also do die trying to rescue others in distress on unpatrolled beaches, often a family member or child.

“If you’re on the beach and you see someone in the water in distress and you want to go help them, there’s a number of important things you really need to think about,” Prof. Brander says.

They are:

  1. Don’t rush in.
  2. Call for help if possible. Or get someone to go get help. There might be an Emergency Response Beacon on the beach.
  3. Look on the beach for a floatation device or anything that floats. There might be public rescue equipment available. If you are going to go in the water, you must bring something that floats.
  4. If you are going to go and help the person, don’t run or swim as fast as you can – you need to conserve energy.
  5. When you get to the person, try and get them to stay calm. Assure them that all they have to do is float. If you brought one, use your floatation device to support them (and you).
  6. When you get to the person, try and get them to stay calm. Assure them that all they have to do is float.
  7. Wave for help, or if there’s nobody else around, try to slowly move yourself and the person you’re rescuing towards areas of breaking waves – this should indicate an area of shallower water and the breaking waves may assist you get back to shore.

Emily Kaine